Photo by Lee Pellegrini
Molière’s “The Misanthrope” – a comedic satire of the hypocrisies in 17th-century French aristocratic society – opens at Robsham Theater this season with an amusing twist: The production is gender-swapped.
“This season’s theme is gender parity,” explains director and Theatre Department lecturer Theresa Lang, “and that connects to the conversations we are having in the American theater in terms of whose stories are being told and whose voices are being heard.
“When we start talking about how we don’t see more plays by women, or more women working in certain production roles or artistic management, the question arises of how to bridge the gap. We have to think about the preconceptions we have about gender.”
“The Misanthrope” runs Nov. 16-18 at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. A panel discussion following the Nov. 16 opening-night performance will underscore the gender parity theme, with Lang, playwright and Monan Professor in Theatre Arts Sheri Wilner, and Julie Hennrikus, executive director of StageSource.
The play’s plot follows Alceste, who is disheartened by the vain flattery and deceitfulness of his fellow men and declares that he will only speak the truth, no matter if others take offense. Ironically, he is enamored of the young widow Celimene, who – because of her malicious tongue and coquetry – embodies all he professes to detest.
Alceste is called to stand trial after he insults a sonnet written by a powerful nobleman. Given his refusal to dole out false compliments, he is charged and humiliated, which leads him to self-imposed exile.
In the unconventional Robsham production, “the casting is a total gender swap,” Lang explains. “The characters written as men are now played as women and those who were women are men. 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.”
A period comedy, “The Misanthrope” has “all this fancy decadence and takes shots at the social practices of the aristocracy, and at the same time raises really interesting questions about class and power,” according to Lang.
The biggest challenge and opportunity, she explained, “has been unpacking our own ideas about gender and finding the way into these characters and this world. So much of the period style is based on gender roles; we have been exploring ways to present as the gender of the character, but with a different power dynamic. It’s been a lot of fun and the cast has been great about jumping into these questions and characters.”
Lang hopes the audience will both “laugh and see a little of us in the world of the play. And in doing so, I hope there are some questions asked about how we perceive gender and its presentation.”
–Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications