By Molière. Translated by Ranjit Bolt. Dir. Mark Spence. With Noe McDonald. Bruised Orange Theater Company at Prop Thtr.
Bite into Bruised Orange's offering and the acting tastes not like a fruit gone bad, but one that needs ripening. Yet the one actor ready for picking is McDonald as Alceste, Molière's miserable misanthrope. At the start—a delicious exchange between Alceste and his cucumber-cool, world-savvy friend Philinte (Clint Sheffer, in the show's other dependable performance)—McDonald declares war against people's two-faced ways with all the scary but enthralling fervor of the self-righteous. With his whiny voice and scrunched-up face (looking like Wallace Shawn's long-lost twin), McDonald rips into a simpering, would-be friend's godawful poem, a scene that prompts out-loud laughs (not the nasal snorts you'd expect) thanks to both Bolt's tasty rhyming dialogue and McDonald's absolute conviction in his truth telling—damn the consequences. Later, Alceste's high-minded ideals laughably crumble when he's faced with his own duplicitous honey, Celimene.
The other actors aren't as adept at the farcical tone, or seem unsure of what tone to take, trying too hard to extract laughs while standing winkingly outside their roles. And director Spence tends to overdo the bawdy humor, instructing actors to point frequently at their crotches (which might've been provocative with Shakespeare plays a few generations back). Having the cast drink a lot of Pabst Blue Ribbon while wearing the kind of well-worn secondhand clothes you'd see around North and Damen, Spence struggles to infuse a contemporary flavor. But if the company continues to mature with budding work like this, the still-green troupe could age into something ready for consumption.—Novid Parsi