“The Misanthrope” will be a Humanitarian for one night as WTF helps Higher Ground

Like most places, the Northern Berkshires has two distinct types of personalities, one optimistic, the other pessimistic. Rarely do the two agree.

The playwright Moliere delineated the latter in The Misanthrope. He describes his character as someone who has a basic distrust of human nature and therefore dislikes and mistrusts other people.

The Misanthrope‘s opposite is the optimist, the humanitarian, the person who believes that adversity can be overcome, that people are essentially good. On February 27 the two will meet at the Clark Art Institute as the Willliamstown Theatre Festival stages a one night only reading of the Moliere play to benefit the newest community charity, Higher Ground.

A Little History

When Tropical Storm Irene blew through Williamstown on August 28, 2011 its flood waters did a great deal of damage to the residents of The Spruces mobile home park. It also rained destruction onto the prop and scene shop of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. For days following, some people took a misanthropic view while others came together to do something about it, and prepare for future disasters.

Initially a loosely organized coalition of churches and individuals began to provide relief for those displaced at The Spruces in the form of food, housing and navigating the maze or conflicting governmental authorities to restore their homes (not always possible) or find new living accommodations. Those efforts are ongoing, and the effort crystallized into Higher Ground, a coalition of local people that is proving to be one of the most vital new charities in the Berkshires.

It Takes Years to Recover

“This was the biggest disaster in Williamstown history,” observes James G. Kolesar, director of public affairs for Williams College and a member of the advisory committee to Higher Ground. “More than 300 people were displaced and scattered, and they are not all settled yet. It will take years for them to recover. “The Williamstown Theatre Festival is such an important part of the community, and their reaching out and supporting our efforts is incredibly important since many think the task has been completed. Their February play reading is important not only for the money it will raise, but it will also give a boost to the organization’s continuing visibility.”

A Theatre is People

The Williamstown Theatre Festival suffered its own losses as the Hoosic River flooded their prop and scenery storage facility causing severe damage. The residents of the Spruces and the staff of the Festival found they shared common ground. “Thanks to our supporters we have made great progress in recovering from that disaster,” said Jenny Gersten, WTF’s artistic director yesterday. “Jim Kolesar (VP of Public Affairs for Williams College) and I have talked about this a lot, and how Higher Ground was formed to provide assistance to the larger community, so when we began to plan our annual February play reading, it was a no-brainer as to who would be the beneficiary. It may have been serendipitous, but Higher Ground is now a major part of the community. They need ongoing support.”

Benefit Reading of The Misanthrope by Moliere

Ms. Gersten and her company chose Richard Wilbur’s translation of Moliere’s classic French comedy The Misanthrope for the reading, to be held at The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown on Monday, February 27th at 7:00 PM. This is quite a year for the 17th Century playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, with his comedy The Learned Ladies also being staged this month and next at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox.

It’s going to be a singularly stunning event, for leading a stellar cast at The Clark is John Douglas Thompson, one of the greatest actors of his generation (so sayeth the New York Times, no less) and a cast of Williamstown Theatre Festival alumni, some of whom will travel from New York City, some of whom live here. Jenny Gersten’s children were born in Williamstown. She divides her time between New York and the Berkshires.

The proceeds from the event will go to Higher Ground, a new organization formed in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene to address affordable housing and disaster relief issues in the Northern Berkshires.

The Director and Cast of The Misanthrope.

The reading will be directed by Lucie Tiberghien (Geometry of Fire, The Pavilion), and will star the aforementioned Thompson (The Emperor Jones, Othello) as Alceste with a cast that includes Jon Bass (The Comedy of Errors, Sweet Bird of Youth), Michael Chernus (Close Up Space, In the Wake), Chris Coffey (Frank’s Home, “The Good Wife”), Johanna Day (Peter and Jerry, Proof), Angela Lewis (Milk Like Sugar, The Brother/Sister Plays), Jennifer Mudge (Dutchman, Reckless) and Michael Wieser (The Cherry Orchard, She Stoops to Conquer).

John Douglas Thompson to star

John Douglas Thompson is well known to Berkshire audiences for his stunning Richard III at Shakespeare & Company two years ago, and for his numerous other appearances there over the years.

“I think John Douglas Thompson is one of the finest verse actors working today,” Ms. Gersten says. “He and Lucie have been working on this play off and on for a year and I am excited to see how he makes this role his own. We’ll also have a wonderful ensemble of actors to round out this rollicking night of winter fun and are pleased to employ The Misanthrope to meet a philanthropic need for our community.”

What the play is about

With this reading, the Williamstown Theatre Festival brings mischief and mayhem to The Clark to cure mid-winter malaise Moliere style. Outraged and disheartened by the vain flattery and calculated duplicity of Paris society, Alceste declares that henceforth he will only speak the truth – no matter what offense it might give. In an ironic twist of fate, Alceste immediately becomes enamored of the young widow Celimene, whose malicious tongue and unceasing coquetry embody all he has proclaimed to detest. Ultimately, it is Alceste who rejects the match when Celimene’s confidential letters are disclosed and scathing secrets are revealed. In a rich translation by Berkshires’ own poet laureate Richard Wilbur, this classic French comedy of manners pointedly punctuates that it is often the wiser course to accept for the best that which cannot be changed for the better.

About Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur is an American poet, literary translator, and scholar. Wilbur wrote his first poem at the age of 8, was named US Poet Laureate in 1987, and has won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice – in 1957 and in 1989. As a translator, Wilbur specializes in 17th-century French drama. His adaptations of Molière’s major plays have become the standard English translations. Wilbur began translating The Misanthrope in 1952, and it received its first performance by The Poets’ Theatre in Cambridge, MA in 1955. Three decades later, Wilbur was awarded the Drama Desk Special Award in 1983 for this adaptation.

Tickets Will go Fast

The reading will be held in the auditorium of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 225 South Street, Williamstown, MA 01267 on February 27th at 7pm. Reservations are recommended and can be made by visiting clarkart.edu or calling 413-458-0524. There is a $10 per person suggested donation that may be made on the evening of the event to benefit Higher Ground. One hopes that some generous souls might add another zero or two to the suggested price.

The Upcoming Season for WTF

Jenny Gersten recently announced one new Main Stage and one new Nikos Stage production for the 2012 Williamstown Theatre Festival (WTF) season, the Festival’s 58th Season and second under Ms. Gersten’s leadership. A Preview Production of Far From Heaven, a new musical with a book by Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out), an original score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (Grey Gardens) and directed by Michael Greif (Rent; WTF’s Three Sisters), will play the Main Stage from July 19 – 29, 2012; the World Premiere of Lucy Boyle’s new play The Blue Deep will play the Nikos Stage from July 11 – July 22, 2012, directed by Drama Desk Award-winner Bob Balaban (Gosford Park; WTF’s “Fridays@3”) and featuring Tony Award-winner (and Williamstown veteran) Blythe Danner (“Meet the Parents”; WTF’s The Seagull).

Special Discount Ticket Bundles for the 2012 Season are available for purchase until March 9, 2012 at http://www.wtfestival.org. To receive the best discounts offered, purchase ticket bundles before February 25th when package prices increase. Single tickets for the 2012 Williamstown Theatre Festival season will be available in April either through the WTF website (www.wtfestival.org) or by mail order using WTF’s season brochure (call 413-597-3400 to join the mailing list). The WTF Box Office will open on June 5th at which point tickets may be purchased online, by phone, or in person at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance Box Office at 1000 Main St (Route 2), Williamstown, MA 02167.

About the Williamstown Theatre Fetival

Since 1954, the Williamstown Theatre Festival has brought America’s finest actors, directors, designers, and playwrights to the Berkshires, engaging a loyal audience of both residents and summer visitors. Each WTF season is designed to present unique opportunities for artists and audience alike, revisiting classic plays with innovative productions, developing and nurturing bold new plays and musicals, and offering a rich array of accompanying cultural events including Free Theatre, Late-Night Cabarets, readings, workshops, and educational programs.

While best known for our acclaimed productions, WTF is also home to one of the nation’s top training and professional development programs for new generations of aspiring theatre artists and administrators. Now under the leadership of Artistic Director Jenny Gersten, WTF was honored with the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 2002 and the Commonwealth Award for Achievement in 2011.

One thought on ““The Misanthrope” will be a Humanitarian for one night as WTF helps Higher Ground

  1. Pingback: Upcoming: The Misanthrope to Benefit Spruces | Higher Ground

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