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Moliere gets a makeover with “The Misanthrope”

| Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Saint Mary’s Department of Communication Studies, Dance and Theatre will present a modern adaptation of Molière’s “The Misanthrope” at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 12-14 and at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 in the Little Theatre, Moreau Hall.

Molière’s 350-year-old play receives a modern-day makeover in this new adaptation as a comedy set in a trendy bar where characters text and use social media, according to a College press release.

“The French comedy, written in 1666, is about love, friendships, gossip and rumors, all human themes that transcend time and place,” the press release stated.

While the names of the characters and the script remain as Molière penned them, the setting has been changed from a king’s court to a modern-day nightclub called “The Misanthrope,” according to the press release.

In another modern twist, characters use texts and social media to deliver some lines and communicate their thoughts. One character, for instance, changes his relationship status on Facebook from “in a relationship” to “it’s complicated,” associate professor of theatre and the play’s director Mark Abram-Copenhaver said.

“In the play, Molière made fun of the way people communicated at the court during the reign of King Louis XIV,” Abram-Copenhaver said. “How they complimented each other to their faces and sniped about each other behind their backs. It’s not unlike how people use social media now.”

Theatre faculty and students had fun adjusting Molière’s characters to character types seen in today’s society, costume designer Melissa Bialko said.

“Alceste, a French aristocrat who takes everything to the extreme, is now a hyper-emo, and his love, the elusive and flirtatious Célimène, is cast as a party girl,” Bialko said. “Arsinoé, a bitter and unpleasant woman in the original play, is now a prude wearing a button-down shirt and a long skirt.”

For the set, professional specialist and scenographer Michaela Duffy and Bialko took a road trip to an Ikea furniture store in Chicago, Duffy said.

“The set is made up largely of furniture purchased at Ikea to give the feel of a trendy, urban nightclub,” Duffy said.

Seniors Nia Parillo and Claire Stewart, who both took a communication studies course on social media over the summer with associate professor Colleen Fitzpatrick, were enlisted to weave the usage of social media into the 350-year-old script.

Stewart said she came to be involved with the production with the assistance of Fitzpatrick.

“[Fitzpatrick] knew I was interested in how social media can be used in a wide-range of industries,” Stewart said. “Knowing that the two of us are interested in the topic and work well together, Dr. Fitzpatrick reached out to us to see if we were interested. We met with Mark Abram-Copenhaver, the director of the production and immediately became interested in working with the production staff.”

Both students considered ways the audience might receive texts, selfies and social media updates from characters on stage, Stewart said.

“We threw around a lot of different ideas when deciding what social media and technology to use in the play,” Stewart said. “Ultimately, we decided that texting, Snapchat and Twitter were best suited to the progression of the play.”

By romanticizing the power of writing, Stewart said she hopes students will find the value of the French playwright’s in today’s world.

“I think that my greatest hope for this production is that, due to its modern setting, students will come to realize that even texts that are centuries old have value in the modern world,” Stewart said. “The play directs a great deal of attention to what constitutes appropriate communication. Because of this focus, the play is able to transcend time. Though the play was written hundreds of years ago, the relationships and interactions that it depicts are highly relatable in our modern world.”

For Stewart, the most rewarding aspect of being involved in the show has been getting to experience a whole new side to theater, she said.

“I was involved in technical crew in high school and have always loved going to plays,” Stewart said. “It is such a different experience being on the production side of things. It’s amazing how much thought and planning has to go into putting on a production of this scale.”

Audience members are encouraged to chat about the production on social media by including the hashtag #SMCmisanthrope.

“If you’re drawn to relatability and interactivity, this is the show for you,” Stewart said.

Tickets for “The Misanthrope” show range from $8-13 and are available at MoreauCenter.com.

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