‘The Misanthrope’ Plays With Gender Parity in Fiery Performance

“No fault is worse than that of writing frigid lifeless verse,” declares an impassioned Avelaine on the stage in The Misanthrope.

Thankfully there is no shortage of memorable verse in Boston College’s production of The Misanthrope, which runs Nov.16 to 18 at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. in Robsham Theater.

BC’s production of The Misanthrope immediately makes one thing loud and clear: the women. Directed by Theresa Lange, the production offers a fitting twist.

“This season’s theme is gender parity and connects to the conversations we are having in the American theatre in terms of whose stories are being told and whose voices are being heard,” Lange said to the Chronicle earlier this week.

Molière’s Le Misanthrope ou l’Atrabilaire amoureux was first performed June 4, 1666, without a doubt occupying a world far different from our own. A comic satire of French aristocratic society, The Misanthrope centers upon the titular misanthrope himself, Alceste, who detests all of society and those around him, save for Clémienè, a flirtatious woman unworthy of his affection. Women pine for Alceste who are recognizably more virtuous than Clémienè, such as Éliante and Arsinoé. Alceste knows the aforementioned are more worthy of his affection than Clémienè, yet he cannot be dissuaded. Alceste insults a sonnet written by Oronte, a significant noble, where he stands trial. With the result of the trial and the discovery of Clémienè’s promiscuous letter-writing, he makes the famous ultimatum of the play: he offers forgiveness in exchange for her renunciation of society to run away with him in his self-imposed exile.

Although BC’s production is not vastly different from the original, it does successfully diverge in flipping the genders of the main characters. One only has to look at the notable changes made in characters’ names: the leading roles of Avelaine (Erica Fallon, CSOM ’18) and Celestine (Nicholas Swancott, MCAS ’19) are presumably the results of a fusion of Alceste and Clémienè. It’s both refreshing and fitting to see the character of Avelaine as strong and witty. It’s hard to say whether the world could have bore witness to another ‘faithful’ interpretation of a patriarchal classic, and one cannot miss Fallon’s strong performance. In the same way that Julie Taymor’s casting of Helen Mirren as Prospero (technically Prospera) in her 2010 production of The Tempest inevitably changes the play, Avelaine’s usurpation of the lead ‘male’ role in The Misanthrope is a funny and timely adaptation.

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“The characters written as men are now played as women, and those who were women are men,” Lange explained in her interview with the Chronicle. “We changed names and pronouns, but other than that are just exploring how those characters would be played and seen as another gender. Part of this swap was also re-visioning the period, looking at the world of the play where women are the ones in power.”

Though Avelaine is obviously the star, Pleasance (Noelle Scarlett, MCAS ’18), Avelaine’s trusted friend, rounds out the leading women into a nice duo. Perhaps the funniest role is that of Odette (Mishy Jacobson, MCAS ’17), who never fails to provide the utmost form of mockery in conjunction with her equally as absurd counterpart, Alair (Sarah Lambert, MCAS ’18), who jeers in a Cali-girl twang.

In a production that tends toward the female roles, it’s not totally unwarranted that the male roles will be, well, a bit on the weaker side. Perhaps this is because the female performances are so strong that one notices the males’ lack of presence. While Avelaine dishes out fiery lines with gusto, Abelino (Dan Quinones, MCAS ’19) hardly seems to be a match. Of course, the characters are meant to be on a level playing field: it’s not so much that the male performances are lackluster so much as they lack the necessary energy to keep up with the women of the play. Of course, if this were a more faithful production of The Misanthrope, then the females of the play might just as easily be labeled as such. It’s a two-way street.

The only other two men, Celestine and Eliott (Brett Murphy, MCAS ’18), do a fine job, and one can probably chalk some of their hesitation all up to dress rehearsal jitters.

The audience is everything. This pedantic criticism is all relative, which is why Avelaine says it best: “There’s no point in printing tedious riot—unless one writes for bread.”

Featured Image By Lucius Xuan / Heights Staff