The Misanthrope | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Misanthrope

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The Misanthrope, BackStage Theatre Company, at the North Lakeside Cultural Center. Should we be concerned that Moliere's cranky, gossipy characters suit almost any time period? Are these our archetypes? Matthew W. Roth's production places the titular human hater, Alceste; his flirty love interest, Celimene; and their backbiting social circle in 1920s America. From a sea of translations, Roth has chosen and adapted (with Jeff Helgeson) the prose version by Henri van Laun. Moliere purists may plotz, but the dialogue is crisp and accessible, realizing the play's comic potential.

As Alceste, the tall, fiery, red-haired Joe Cella is a wonderfully petulant control freak, seething or exploding into tantrums over his coy sweetheart's inability to devote herself to one man. As Celimene, Melanie Keller alternately pouts, teases, and stamps her high-heeled feet, playing Alceste like the grand piano that adorns the beautiful living room of the North Lakeside Cultural Center; built in 1910, it's the perfect setting for the play's fateful dinner party. Audience members sit like guests in the middle of the parlor, getting a full view of all conversations and hiding places for prohibition hooch. Roth and staff take full advantage of such period idiosyncrasies (no doubt Michelle MacCabee had great fun picking out the fringed dresses, pearls, and feather boas) and have clearly thought through every prop and bit of stage business. Elegant, decadent, and a little mean. What could be more delicious? Free parking passes available.

--Kim Wilson

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