Saturday, November 4, 2023

"Say All the Truth" at the Jungle Theater, a co-production with The Moving Company

In the last couple of years, the Jungle has brought us several successful co-productions, combining their resources, audiences, and artistry with other theaters around town (including Theater Mu, Trademark Theater, and WeAreMarried). Their latest successful co-pro is Say All the Truth, an adaptation of Moliere's The Misanthrope created by The Moving Company. MoCo was birthed out of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the Tony Award-winning company that ended in 2008. Between the two companies, they've done all of Moliere's plays, except this one. The story of a man who doesn't like people and wants to live away from society resonates particularly well right now, when that's sort of what we were all forced to do during the pandemic, and maybe some of us discovered we liked it, because people can be exhausting and infuriating. But still, the play quietly illustrates the power of and need for human connection. And like all of MoCo's work, it's mesmerizing, thoughtful, elemental, creative, and quite lovely. Say All the Truth continues through November 26, but tickets are selling well with the combined popularity of these two companies, so don't wait too long to grab yours.

This adaptation was created by the MoCo trio - co-Artistic Directors Dominique Serrand (director) and Steven Epp (Alceste) and Producing Artistic Director Nathan Keepers (Philinte). (The fourth member of the MoCo team, Artistic Associate Christina Baldwin, also serves as the Jungle's Artistic Director, making this an ideal partnership.) The creators have taken this 350-year-old play and made it feel modern, yet timeless. They've pared down the cast to just Alceste (the titular misanthrope), his friend Philinte, and three women, who in this version are sisters, giving them a life and relationships separate from just their association with the men. The play begins with Philinte trying to convince his friend not to leave society, and Alceste putting up a pretty good argument for why he feels he must (because again, people can be awful). His one weakness is his love for Célimène (Liz Wisan), who's the opposite of Alceste - flirtatious and popular and in love with the world. Her sisters Éliante (Tracey Maloney) and Arsinoé (Sally Wingert) join the conversation, one more pleasant than the other. Not too much happens over the course of the 95-minute play, just ideas discussed, and relationships formed or broken.

Steven Epp and Nathan Keepers (photo by Dominique Serrand)
This five-person ensemble, under the direction of Dominique Serrand (who also designed the set), work together as one. Steven Epp and Nathan Keepers have worked together so much over decades that they move and speak together with a natural grace and connection. To their little company they've added #TCTheater favorites Sally Wingert and Tracey Maloney, both of whom make everything better, Sally with her sharp humor as the bitter Arsinoé and Tracey with her humanity as the tender-hearted Éliante. Rounding out the cast is Brooklyn-based actor Liz Wisan, literally and figuratively the bold and colorful center around which the others rotate. It's a wonderful company of actors creating this space and this story together.

The pace and the staging of the play are so lovely and unhurried, things playing out in their own time and space. The Jungle's shoebox diorama of a stage is fully open to a worn and marked brick wall that, if it's not the actual back wall of the theater, is a great facsimile. More brick walls on the sides frame the space at the back, with a bare floor and open wings creating a spacious feel. Actors walk all around the space, into the corners, facing away from us, walking into the wings while continuing their conversation. There's a water element, as there often is with MoCo (they also often use a tarp on stage, but not for the same reasons as the recent Twin Cities Horror Festival). Water drips from the ceiling for much of the play, for what reason I'm not sure, other than it creates interesting audio and visual texture (and for some reason Steven Epp does his best work when he's wet). After the opening scene another tarp is removed to uncover a dressing room table with mirrors and bright lights directly facing the audience (which I suspect may be the same piece used in 2021's post-pandemic catharsis Anamnesis). It's a startling effect when first revealed, showing us ourselves, and as the action continues it gives us a double view of the actors.

the sisters: Liz Wisan, Tracey Maloney, and Sally Wingert
(photo by Dominique Serrand)
The deliberateness with which the actors move around the space is matched in the handling of the props. There are a few dining or drinking scenes, every glass and bowl handled with precise yet fluid movements. The cast is dressed in multi-layered softly muted costumes, jackets and sweaters added and removed to reveal more lovely pieces. The women sport dresses over pants (a look I'm planning to steal in the upcoming winter months). Alceste is in a soft mossy green, Philinte in pale grey, Célimène's sisters in cool creams, but Célimène herself is the pop of life and color in a bright red draped satin skirt with a velvet jacket - no wonder everyone loves her (costume design by Sonya Berlovitz).

Alceste is a character who does "say all the truth," or else the truth as he sees it, holding nothing back in his sharp criticism of everyone and everything. But where does that lead him? This lovely production explores those ideas within the framework of a centuries old and often told story. MoCo's artistry is truly unmatched, and they bring that sensibility to this successful co-pro with the Jungle Theater. Playing Wednesdays through Sundays (except Thanksgiving) until November 26.