Moliere probably suffers more than Shakespeare from the depredations of “adaptors.” Most of the time Shkespeare’s verse survives intact no matter how misguided the directorial conceit. But it is all too easy to discard Moliere’s complex and clever verse along with the original French.
Kudos to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for presenting at the Festival Theatre a Misanthrope that, in Richard Wilbur’s deft translation, retains the joys of the original’s alexandrine verse, 12-syllable rhymed couplets that can try the skills of even the most accomplished classical actors.
Perhaps needless to say, the Festival’s company of actors is more than equal to the challenge and it is delightful to watch the likes of Ben Carlson (Alceste), Sara Topham (Celimene) and Juan Chioran (Philinte) bat Moliere’s lines back and forth like badmintons at a very posh lawn party.
Under the confident direction of David Grindley, the production puts Moliere’s text front and center, although fleshing out the milieu of his privileged characters might have added a welcome layer. Grindley is ably abetted by John Lee Beatty’s stately unit set and the gorgeous costumes by Robin Fraser Paye are almost a show by themselves. I dare say the costume budget alone was larger than the annual salaries of all but the very richest in the audience.
What a joy to see the greatest works of the theatrical canon played by first-rate actors in productions with Broadway-sized budgets!