The Misanthrope Gives Audiences an Exclusive Backstage Pass
By Mary Margaret Hogan '18 | Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Mary Margaret Hogan '18
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The UMass Theater Department’s latest production, The Misanthrope, opened last week in the Rand Theater and surprised audiences with its cutting-edge interpretation of the classic Moliere piece performed before a backdrop of a modern-day television set. With a script adapted by Constance Congdon ‘82G from a translation by Virginia Scott, the piece features UMass students portraying two roles: their characters within the “television sitcom” on its fifth season and their actors struggling to get through a day on set without backstage drama. Audience members are handed two separate programs, one featuring the UMass students who tirelessly worked in this production and a faux program displaying detailed performance resumes of the sitcom “actors,” as well as their extensive educational backgrounds.
Under the direction of Mary Corinne Miller, the show opened without a hint of change in lighting or set. Audience members continued to chat as Tyler DiBenedetto ‘19 crossed the stage with his headset on and a donut from the craft service’s table. More students portraying the roles of various technical positions, such as sound crew, camera operators, and the sitcom’s director, entered the set to prepare for their filming. DiBenedetto and Sarah Etkin ‘17 took their places as camera operators in the left and right sides of the audience and set up their equipment to project live footage of the action on screens above them.
Graduate student Darius Taylor took the stage resembling a hype man as he spoke directly to the audience about their filming process. “You’re encouraged to react audibly!” he encouraged. “When someone kisses, ‘ooh!’, when someone makes you laugh, laugh!” Throughout the show, actor and assistant sitcom director Rachel Hall ‘19 would enter the set with an “applause” sign to indicate one of the actor’s first entrances in the sitcom’s episode.
With the addition of opening credits displaying on either television screen, there were other elements that immediately and seamlessly immersed the audience into the television series’s plotline. The sitcom utilized Moliere’s classic text with rhyming verses; however, it was easily relayed to the audience with the modern delivery from each actor. Monologues became relatable rants, and soliloquies became intimate deliveries to the camera. Each actor entered the stage in modern styles with a hipster-esque touch—suspenders, fancy mustaches, and high-waisted pants galore! Characters followed their usual archs from the classic piece, but they simulated common tropes of the modern-day sitcom. Matt Crawford ‘18 and Jerry Ng ‘19 received an abundance of laughter from the audiences as they paralleled a contemporary comedic duo, while Faolain Bobersky ‘20 and Ellen Keith ‘18 flawlessly outlined their characters as none other than “frenemies.”
With the signal from the director, played by Ryan Jacobucci ‘17, each scene would close and actors would break out of their characters. In one instance, the actors walked through the audience to sign their “fans'” autograph books that were added into the program, while other elements included backstage drama between Bobersky and Frank Schuth ‘18 as they mirrored their sitcom characters’ rollercoaster of a relationship. With every break, students characterizing the roles of the technical crew for the sitcom would adjust the set to the appropriate condition for each scene, each time giving the audience a reminder of the two worlds playing out on stage.
The Misanthrope was successfully a unique interpretation of the classic text and kept the audience captivated with its unpredictable dual storylines. With an added “Uber” line and the characters mindlessly checking their phones when the dialogue didn’t pertain to them, the text was broadened for modern audiences to fully comprehend and identify themselves with each character’s conflict and achievement. The show continues its run throughout the week of October 27—October 29, 2016 at 7:30 pm and October 29, 2016 at 2:00 pm. More information can be found on the UMass Theater Department Facebook page or website.
Photo credit to John Crispin