The Howling

Take Le Misanthrope, one of the most popular plays in the dramatic canon. Turn the protagonist into a werewolf. Write a sequel to that play, wherein this character takes revenge on his enemies by stalking them and slaughtering them like terrified rabbits. Also, make sure to write it in iambic pentameter with rhyming couplets. Good idea or bad idea? While it sounds like potential B-movie schlock, Le Lycanthrope mixes the right amount of satire and class to create an original and—surprisingly literary—interpretation of Moliere's French classic.

Le Lycanthrope is full of cleverness, from its title (lycanthropy is the condition of being, or thinking, that one is a werewolf) to the name of its co-production company: Loup Garou International ("loup garou" is the French term for werewolf). And what better situation to introduce this horror movie element into than one that claims that "men behave like wolves to each other"?

Written by Timothy McCown Reynolds, this story picks up after Moliere's play ends. Alceste, the misanthrope, has left Paris because he can't abide the shallow gossip and incessant flattery so prevalent in wealthy society. His decision to leave costs him his fiancée, but he is uncompromising in his values.

Le Lycanthrope opens on Halloween, with Alceste returning after several years alone in the woods. He is throwing a party and has invited both his friends and his enemies. Returning from the original play are Eliante, Philinte, Arsinoe, Clitandre, and Oronte.

Alceste's former lover, Celimene, is noticeably absent at the gathering, and Oronte has brought a new lady friend, the mysterious Alacoque. Alceste's guests ask him why he has returned, and why he seems so different. He shares his harrowing account of an attack by a strange wolf during a full moon; he survived and defeated the creature but is infected by the werewolf's curse. The partygoers have many reactions to this tale, but none believe it to be true. They soon find out that they should have paid more attention.

At its heart, the play is a well-researched, well-crafted homage to 17th-century comedy, full of bawdy humor and double entendres. The use of iambic pentameter was extremely ambitious on Reynolds's part, and he was able to insert contemporary idioms and comedy into many of the rhyming couplets. Occasionally, the actors seemed to struggle with the rhythmic mouthfuls. This occurred most often with the younger performers, in sections where the poetry got stilted. But the language didn't prove to be a problem for Alceste, as the part was performed by the playwright himself. He was clearly very at home with the character and the dialogue.

The play's biggest drawback is its length, with a running time of close to two and a half hours. Several scenes at the beginning of Act I dealt with lengthy exposition, both of the source material and of this new version. There was little physical activity during these scenes, and even with Reynolds's captivating stage presence, they tended to drag.

However, once clear of the establishing details, director Brendan Turk gave the show a more manageable tempo. He also drew strong performances from his entire cast, especially in the juicier (and bloodier) second act. Alceste's rivals, Clitandre and Oronte, formed a particularly noteworthy team: Bob Laine's Clitandre was giddy and shrill, while Joe Pindelski's Oronte was darker and more severe. Lovely costumes by Karen Flood were made even more sumptuous by Jeff Nash's resourceful lighting design. Nash used color and positioning to effectively add ambience to a simple, flexible set.

The subtitle for Le Lycanthrope is "A Revenge-Farce With a Monster-Movie Groove." It is clearly that. While best suited for an audience familiar with Moliere's comedy and an ear for metered verse, anyone looking for a fun treat to get in the Halloween spirit could check out this show and not feel tricked.

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