nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 5, 2006
Le Lycanthrope is Timothy McCown Reynolds's "unofficial sequel" to Moliere's Le Misanthrope. As you may recall, Moliere's play is about a young man named Alceste who is so disgusted by the hypocrisy and posing of Paris society that he vows to only tell the truth, which eventually loses him virtually all of his friends and, most woundingly, his beloved Celimene. At the end of Le Misanthrope, Alceste is thoroughly disgusted with his circle and announces he will escape the city:
...I, betrayed and loaded with injustice
Flee from this dunghill home of every vice
And seek some lonely cranny of the earth
Where a man is free to be a man of honor.
(The translation is Morris Bishop's.)
Le Lycanthrope picks up the story seven years later. Alceste has returned to Paris after all this time away, bent on revenge against those he feels betrayed him. These include his erstwhile best pal Philinte, Philinte's girlfriend Eliante, the foolish fop Clitandre, the lawyer and Alceste's one-time nemesis Oronte, and the frivolous party girl Arsinoe; the one whom Alceste feels most wronged by, Celimene, is not among them, however, as she has disappeared from society (we'll eventually learn that she is King Louis XIV's secret mistress).
Alceste invites these friends and foes to a gathering at his home on Halloween Eve, where he spins a fantastical tale about how, during his time in the forest, he was bitten by a werewolf and has now turned into one himself. ("Lycanthrope" means werewolf.) He succeeds in spooking his guests pretty successfully, until Clitandre realizes that it's just a goof, and everybody wanders off chuckling to some degree about his or her gullibility.
But of course Clitandre may be entirely wrong: Alceste may actually be a werewolf. The following acts of Reynolds's play tease us with evidence without ever really allowing us to be completely certain. But before the evening is over, Alceste will accomplishes much of what he has set out to do, in the tradition not of Moliere heroes but rather the misunderstood anti-heroes of horror movies from Halloween to Friday the 13th and beyond.
Le Lycanthrope is written in verse (iambic pentameter), and so is homage to Moliere—a difficult trick to pull off, and one that Reynolds manages mostly pretty well: the language is generally witty and on-target. Structurally, it looks like French Renaissance comedy as well, playing out in a single night in the drawing rooms of various rich/noble Parisians.
The plotting is a bit problematic, however. Reynolds wants his piece to be as pointed and pertinent to us as Moliere's satires were in the 17th century, and so he's inserted allusions to various contemporary political/social circumstances that don't always feel as organic as we'd hope. He also is explicitly celebrating what he terms a "monster movie groove" but the monster stuff mostly all happens off-stage—indeed our eponymous werewolf is almost entirely absent from the the second half of the story, when the supposed carnage is being wrought. As a result, the fun of having a lycanthrope as leading man is only second-hand; we're stuck instead spending time with would-be victims like the lawyer Oronte and the girl-gone-wrong Celimene.
Under the direction of Brendan Turk, Le Lycanthrope has been given a fairly elaborate production with a cast of ten. Karen Flood's costumes are sumptuous and period-appropriate, but Kerry Chipman's set is overly ambitious and, at the performance attended, often hindered rather than helped traffic on the small Kraine Theatre stage. The performances are similarly uneven: Bob Laine steals the show whenever he's around as the outsized fop Clitandre, relishing the verse and putting over the comedy broadly and winkingly. Joe Pindelski is effective as Oronte, and John McConnel is fine in the mostly underwritten role of Philinte. Catherine McNelis fares best among the females in the company, as a lively and opportunistic Arsinoe. Reynolds takes the title role himself, but as noted he's not quite written himself the star part he deserves, with his Alceste missing from much of the second half of the play.
Le Lycanthrope is a neat Halloween diversion, especially for those familiar with the Moliere play that inspired it. But it's not likely to replace the original in our esteem—that would be a tall order, indeed.