Tragedy and comedy to converge on stage

A tale of love, a critique of social norms, a satire of human behavior — all are possible descriptions of the play opening Thursday at the Whitney Theater.

The plot of Molière’s “The Misanthrope” follows the lives of four men courting a woman in 17th-century France. The production — a senior project for Gabriel DeLeon ’14 and Anna Cabrera ’14 — is being directed by Associate Theater Studies Professor Toni Dorfman and produced by Noam Shapiro ’15.

The play centers on one man in particular: Alceste, or the “misanthrope,” is frustrated that he cannot get the undivided attention of the woman he loves, as she is interested in many different men. Yet Shapiro explained that the production explores not only love, but human interactions in general. The play is a “comedy of manners,” Dorfman said.

“It’s an examination of human society and human nature and how … society can attempt to shape or form or combat human nature and human desires,” said Eric Sirakian ’15, who plays Philinte, a friend of Alceste.

Shapiro said honesty is a central topic of the play, and one he said is particularly important in an age where technology enables anonymity.

Yet the play provides no clear answers and satirizes both honesty and dishonesty, said Reed Morgan ’17, who plays a suitor in the production. Celimene, the woman Alceste loves, is a caricature of untruthfulness, as she flirts with several men but ends up scorning them behind their backs. On the other hand, Alceste is a caricature of righteousness, as he claims he is committed to a life of virtue yet ends up hating humanity.

Instead of providing clear answers, Sirakian said, the play poses questions and shows extremes. The production will urge the audience to consider the situations in life where complete honesty may be detrimental and dishonesty may be justified.

Several members of the cast and crew said the play evokes emotions they think many audiences can relate to. The idea of exclusivity in love — “of wanting love and being uncertain as to another person’s ability to truly give it” — is a feeling most people experience in their lifetimes, Cabrera said. Love and the fear that accompanies it are central to the play, she said.

Sirakian explained that the play critiques hypocrisy and insincerity, behaviors that many in 17th-century France used to get ahead in society and ones that are also present today at places such as Yale, where social climbers may employ similar tactics.

Dorfman called the play an amalgamation of “high comedy, low comedy [and] tragedy.” Morgan said that he views the play as a meeting point of tragedy and comedy.

Despite the characters’ absurd traits and motives, Morgan said, the play ultimately portrays their authentic emotional lives; when Celimene rejects her suitors, they are genuinely crushed. The interplay between tragic and comic elements is what makes the play so powerful, he added.

“We hope that the audience will leave the theater with laughter in their bellies, thoughts in their minds, and warmth in their hearts,” Shapiro said. “We also hope that the play will inspire the audience to reflect on how we, as a community, interact with one another and what it means to love another person.”

“The Misanthrope” will run through Saturday.

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