Martin Crimp's contemporary play, The Misanthrope, is all current tempo and no past, though CSC eccentrically wants to give some old guy named Molière credit for it. The issue of translation versus adaptation seems to confuse people, though it's really very simple. Putting the play the original author wrote into our language is translation; using it as an excuse for a different play of your own is, usually, playwriting. Crimp's play, which has some lively talk and an amusingly jaundiced view of today's culture makers, contains virtually no Molière, and would probably be better if it shook off its few remaining 17th-century encumbrances, like its weird desire to ape his rhymed couplets with ragged meters and jangly half-assonances.
Crimp's characters are a working showbiz elite; Molière's are the vocationless power figures around a royal court. But artists dishing each other an ongoing part of their collegial relations is qualitatively different from a nation's moral leaders challenging each other's integrity. When Crimp's Alceste kvetches about "another play by David fucking Hare," he just means they should have done his play instead; what Molière's Alceste does is more like standing up in the Senate and saying, "Why are you guys all such fucking liars?" The deals that Crimp's people live for money, publicity, sex are built into their profession: In trying to give Molière's plot immediacy, he's ironically robbed it of its power to shock. And the original's classical structure gives his world of tabloids, cokeheads, and fax machines an oddly lumpy rhythm.
Swoosie Kurtz (center) as Myrna in The Mineola Twins: American madness as a sister act
The Mineola Twins By Paula Vogel Roundabout/ Laura Pels Theatre Broadway and 45th Street 719-9300
The Misanthrope By Martin Crimp Classic Stage Company 136 East 13th Street 677-4210
Not that the result's disastrous: Narelle Sissons's off-angle, mirror-backed set pushes the uneven cast into lively motion, and Barry Edelstein's staging wisely lets the self-referential text do its own deconstructing. Roger Rees attacks the role of Alceste fiercely, pouring out too many effects too early, but the range of his pourings is impressive. Nick Wyman has good smirky fun as a critic and would-be playwright, while Mary Lou Rosato, as a Juilliard faculty member, does a droll combined caricature of several well-known acting teachers. Best of all is the ultimate evidence that our daily press knows nothing about acting, and less about beauty. Movie stars onstage usually make me yawn, but Uma Thurman has presence, elegantly composed features, strong emotional focus, an attractive voice, and precise diction. Her sense of vocal color could improve; the simple cure for this is more experience. I hope we see her in a dozen plays over the next few years. As Rosato tells her at one point, she might even play Célimène.