‘The Misanthrope’ gives Molière a techno twist

Mauckingbird Theater Company, founded by Temple professor Peter Reynolds and student Lindsay Mauck, premiered its first piece, The Misanthrope, on Jan. 10.

Reynolds, director of musical theater for Temple’s theater department, met Mauck, a senior music education major, through their work together in the theater department. In Reynolds’ recent productions of Ragtime and Into the Woods, Mauck played Emma Goldman and Cinderella’s stepmother, respectively.

“Peter and I had been talking about [starting a company] last spring,” Mauck said, “But it didn’t happen. I found out that space was available in January, so I called Peter and said, ‘Do you still want to do it?'”

“I wouldn’t normally consider starting a company with an undergraduate student, but Lindsay is an exceptional person,” Reynolds said. “She is a savvy, focused, motivated young woman – a go-getter.”

The name of the company was Reynolds’ idea.

Mauckingbird comes from Lindsay’s e-mail address, and I liked it,” Reynolds said. “Eventually, we would like to do musicals, and Mauckingbird is a twist on the songbird.”

Reynolds, as artistic director, and Mauck, as managing director, cast the show in late November and began rehearsing in the second week of December. That left only one month to prepare the company’s debut piece, Molière’s The Misanthrope.

Molière’s poignant critique of 17th-century Parisian society is surprisingly applicable to 21st-century Philadelphia. Plus, Reynolds has added an interesting element: the cast is all male.

“The Misanthrope is produced, but not often,” Reynolds said. “Our production is a twist on this already created piece. We had a reading last summer, and we were very excited.”

In founding Mauckingbird, Reynolds and Mauck decided to produce only gay-themed pieces: obscure works and classics from centuries past.

“I’m openly gay,” Reynolds said. “The gay community is my passion, and this company gives me the opportunity to explore gay-themed stories in different genres.”

Mauck, too, was eager to start a company that would appeal to a different audience and produce different works.

“I really trust [Reynolds] artistically,” Mauck said. “He knows what he is doing and makes it work. So many small theater companies are doing new, original plays. We wanted a new market.”

The 2nd Stage at the Adrienne Theater, located at 20th and Sansom streets, is an intimate proscenium theater – 60 seats – with a black box feel. One wall is exposed brick and the others are draped with black curtains.

“We were looking for an affordable place – something smaller and more intimate [than Philadelphia’s larger venues],” Reynolds said. “It is tricky to get a space in Philly.”

The stage is set as a 17th-century parlor, with columns, drapes, a daybed, fur rugs, ornate chandeliers and a liquor cabinet. Baroque music sounds throughout the theater as audience members seat themselves. Then, when the theater darkens, the Baroque music shifts to techno, and the effeminate Basque, played by senior theater major Cosimo Mariano, greets the audience.

Molière’s play centers on Alceste, played by Dito van Reigersberg, who rails in verse against society’s facades and trickery. Reigersberg is a founding member of the Pig Iron Theater Company. He is known throughout Philadelphia as his drag alter-ego, Miss Martha Graham-Cracker of the Martha Graham-Cracker Cabaret at L’Étage in South Philly.

“Dito was pre-cast,” Reynolds said. “He is extremely intelligent, and Alceste is a role that fits him. He participated in the reading last summer, and we are very excited to have him.”

On Jan. 12, the cast made a special appearance at the Gershwin Y for the Philadelphia AIDS Fund’s monthly fundraiser, Gay Bingo. Although Reynolds and Mauck’s company seems to cater to Philadelphia’s gay community, The Misanthrope attracts a diverse crowd.

“We have a really nice mix of people, including gay men, women and people of all ages. We even have a French group coming,” Reynolds said.

Molière’s production easily accommodated an all-male cast. The characters’ referring to one another as “her” worked well – Molière’s coquettish females translated easily into flaming, feminine men. Some lines – really, any including the word “wood” – offered new opportunities for crude jokes, and Alceste’s cry of “Be a man!” in the first scene seemed to take on a new meaning.

Although the techno music, stereotypical “queen” characters and occasionally crass humor were entertaining, they did not mask Molière’s poignant case for personal integrity.

Leah Kristie can be reached at leah.kristie@temple.edu.

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