LE MISANTHROPE by Molière, directed by Jean-Stéphane Roy (Théâtre Français de Toronto). Berkeley Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkeley). To November 10. $28-$46. 416-534-6604. Rating: NN
Stiff, implacable alceste, the title character in Molière's Le Misanthrope, doesn't believe in white lies. His standard of honesty won't permit the social politenesses most people utter every day.
Trouble is, the woman he loves, the flirtatious Célimène, speaks sweetness to people's face but gossips behind their back. His desire to reform her is as unrealistic as his treatment of acquaintances.
For Théâtre Français de Toronto's 40th anniversary production, director Jean-Stéphane Roy updates the action with 21st-century technology and a dance-club feel, but the busy staging doesn't always get to the show's heart.
It's hard to like Alceste, who will have nothing to do with what he sees as society's hypocrisy and seems to be determined to be forever angry, though we also have to feel his passion, which actor Julian Doucet only captures sometimes.
Karine Ricard's manipulative Célimène suggests more emotion beneath the surface while playing up the woman's teasing quality.
But the show's most truthful work comes from Pierre Simpson as Alceste's friend Philinte, who understands and accepts human frailty, and Mélanie Beauchamp's Eliante, Célimène's honest, playful cousin, with her own yen for Alceste.
Roy creates some moments of strong theatre, especially the catty confrontation between Célimène and Arsinoé (Gisèle Rousseau), the seeming prude who's out to catch Alceste in her own net. But he also trivializes characters, including the noblemen Clitandre (Marc Ouimet) and Acaste (Manuel Verreydt) - here a kind of Tweedledee and Tweedledum - and the bad poet Oronte (Benoît Saint-Hilaire). Eric Charbonneau's period-dressed, scene-setting factotum plays his many roles with style.
The director's use of videocams gives us a second view of the characters, suggesting the distinction between what most characters speak and what they think, but after a while the device becomes distracting - especially if you're also (as I was) reading the English surtitles. Thankfully, Nina Okens 's colourful, extravagant costumes never sidetrack the viewer.
Surtitled performances November 2, 8 and 10.