Hypocrisy doesn’t sit well with Alceste—Molière’s titular misanthrope—a man too frank for the backstabbing world of high society. Then again, not much does sit well with Alceste. He hates sycophants, artists and (in this version) gay folks; he’s a general downer, of the holier-than-thou variety. Naturally, Molière puts this cultivated persona to the test by placing Alceste ineffably, inexplicably in love with Celimene, the queen bee of the bitchy social set. From there, the improbable comedy of manners unfurls.
Holm’s new adaptation proves a buoyant updating of its Gallic source. He’s trimmed this 17th-century tale to 90 minutes and set it vaguely now. His alterations constitute an unobtrusive and welcome means of making French farce feel less stultifying. And Holm has artfully adhered to the singsong rhyme scheme that makes Molière’s dialogue as gratifyingly listenable as a Temptations ballad.
Vintage only stumbles where the playwright makes it tricky not to. With a wide array of lovables populating the sidelines, it’s hard not to feel that Alceste sucks the stage’s lifeblood. The stellar performances of Lenz, in several effervescent supporting roles, and Collins, as imperious Celimene, highlight the problem. With these adroitly acted subplots on the margins, we feel distracted and, eventually, bored by the social Dementor center stage.