Moliere meets metal

A mosh pit, a hot tub, a heavy metal backyard amusement park – as well as original music – are the hallmarks of the ASU MainStage Season rock adaptation of Moliere’s 17th century comedy.

The play opens Nov. 12 and runs through Dec. 4, at the Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, on the ASU Tempe campus.

“The Misanthrope” tells the tale of a rock demi-god, Alceste, who becomes disenchanted with the hypocritical rules and games of the music scene. He is in love with the beautiful, flirtatious and career-driven Celimene, played by ASU acting student Amber Wright, who embodies many of the deceitful qualities Alceste detests in people.

Leading the cast is senior acting student Jason Steffen, whose own life sometimes mirrors that of the misanthropic character he portrays, “especially in high school,” Steffen recalls. Currently, Steffen leads the local black metal band Singularity, which has performed at Valley venues. He composed the four songs to be featured in the by by the ASU School of Theatre and Film in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“The music reflects bits and pieces of all of my favorite bands,” Steffen says. “I experimented with lots of different styles, and each song lives off in its own world that draws from a scene in the play.”

“Finding Jason was pure luck,” says William Partlan, professor of directing and director of this production, translated and adapted by Lauren Goldman Marshall, based on a concept by Alan Craig Di Bona.

The connection was made when Partlan overheard Steffen talking about his music after directing class. “I knew he was a good actor, and when I heard he was a composer as well, I thought we had struck gold.”

Partlan is not a self-described “metal head,” but he is a musician and was slightly familiar with the genre through his son, Nathan. When he read the script, Partlan’s mind “immediately went back” to the purity of heavy metal lyrics and the hubris of many of its musicians. “The world of heavy metal has no lack of misanthropic artists, many of whom refuse to flatter the monied interests or play by society’s rules,” says Partlan.  “In my mind, the milieu was a natural.”

Lauren Marshall’s translation was inspired by the lives and music of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. It is “raunchy, but only where Moliere was raunchy,” Partlan says. Marshall worked from the original French, translating and adapting line by line, Partlan adds. “It is very artfully done.”

The costume and scene design befit the world of the rock musician. To be staged in the cavernous Galvin Playhouse, “The Misanthrope” will feature a mosh pit and a dark version of Michael Jackson’s backyard amusement park at Neverland Ranch, complete with a hot tub.

Costumes will be “heavy-metal-meets-Baroque,” Partlan says.“The band Kiss and some of the early metal bands could have worn their costumes in the French courts. They have that Baroque element. We have integrated those ideas, and the results are diabolically fantastic.”

“If you liked the film 'Spinal Tap' and you are up for a wild ride, you will enjoy this production of 'The Misanthrope,'" he says.

NOTE: This show contains nudity, mature language and adult themes, and may not be appropriate for younger audiences.