'Le Misanthrope' gets fresh look at Illusion

Left to right: Brendan Frost, Matt "Sass" Spring, Isabel K. Nelson, and Breana Jarvis.

Left to right: Brendan Frost, Matt "Sass" Spring, Isabel K. Nelson, and Breana Jarvis.

Moliere's Le Misanthrope (The Impossible Lovers) is a comedy of manners that has drawn audiences since it was first produced in the 17th century. Adaptor and director Eric Powell Holm presents his vision of the play this Thursday through Sunday at the Illusion Theater as part of the Light House Lights Up! Series. City Pages took a moment to chat with the artist.

City Pages: What brought you to tackle Moliere?

Eric Powell Holm
: I've been amazed and inspired by Richard Wilbur's translations of Moliere for as long as I could comprehend the magnitude of his endeavor: To keep the accuracy of the text while maintaining (but adapting) the poetic form, including the rhyme. I wanted to build on the foundation that Wilbur built by extending that intensely theatrical rhyming couplet form into our day and age, and deal with our circumstances. The thing about Moliere is his preoccupation with the way we treat each other--the way we love, or fail to love, one another; but it's also about the virtuosic rhetoric and poetry, and I love that combination.


[jump] CP: What were the biggest challenges in adpating the work? Will people who are familiar with the original see considerable differences in your approach?

I'm very free with the text; college French majors may be a bit shocked with my liberties: I've taken two male characters, conflated them, and transformed them into a wealthy lesbian would-be performance artist; I've collapsed the timeframe from several days into an intense 90-minute segment of a raucous, contemporary party; the lovers aren't French courtiers, they are American artists. I was challenged but energized by the goal of making the voices seem like they could be from our time, but that the rhythms (iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets) come from an older and more rhetorically advanced period.

CP: How about audiences who aren't familiar with the story? What do you think they will get out of attending the show?

They'll be introduced--in a clear, contemporary, accessible version--to one of the great romantic comedies of all time. Along with Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare, Moliere's Le Misanthrope helped invent the "opposites attract" story-form that, in my mind, most contemporary romances still lean on. Woody Allen's Annie Hall reminds me of these impossible lovers. I'm confident that people who have never seen a Moliere play will follow our story, laugh plentifully, and get sucked into a truly classic piece about the deep difficulties of true love.

CP: How much time have you had to work with the four actors and how quickly have they taken to the material and your approach?

EPH: Two actors play the lovers, Alceste and Celimene, and two play everyone else, a swirling cast of supporting characters: Oronte, Clitandre, Philinte, Eliante, Arsinoe, and Dubois. The four actors--UMN/Guthrie BFA seniors Brendan Frost and Breana Jarvis, and local theater heroes Isabel Nelson, creator of Ballad of the Pale Fisherman, and Matt "Sass" Spring, one of the founders of the Four Humors--started working with me at the beginning of December. It's a brilliant mix of personalities and skill sets for what we're trying to do, I think.
CP: Why does Moliere still matter in 2011?

EPH: Moliere wrote about such universal human problems: love and its relationship to jealousy, the social and political question of honesty, religion and its potential to be abused, money and the fools it makes of people, health and aging and the pain it brings out in people.  But he did it in a revealing, utterly honest way, giving himself the job, as an actor, to argue through these great human questions--to come to a conclusion, and then, sometimes, to be wrong.

The Misanthrope plays Thursday through Sunday this weekend. Shows are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. Illusion Theater is located at

528 Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis
. For more info call 612.339.4944 or visit