Michael Fields is Producing Artistic Director of the Dell'Arte Company and Director of the California Summer School of the Arts. He has directed and acted in Moliere plays and adaptations, including a starring role in the Dell'Arte production of Tartuffe. He is currently teaching an advanced acting class at Humboldt State that is preparing a show on Alexander von Humboldt for next fall, part of the HSU centennial. The following is an edited interview about the HSU Theatre, Film & Dance Department production of Hater.
What’s Hater about?
“It’s about a guy—Alex in this translation-- who can’t stand not being able to tell the truth, especially socially and to authority. So eventually he has to make a choice between living in this particular world, or dropping out.
But it’s also a love story. He’s in love with Celine, but it doesn’t fit into the construct he has for himself. So it’s a contradiction in his life—he can’t get over it and he can’t abide it. A tough place to be in.
Alex is one of those guys—and I’ve met several—who has certain absolutes. Phil, his best friend in the play, keeps trying to reason with him but he’s such an iconoclast that he can’t compromise. But of course the penalties you pay in this world for that can be high. When you have high ideals and try to live by them, the world can become a difficult place.
Celine is an experienced woman—she’s been married once—but she’s still only 20. I don’t think she comes from great wealth, so her drive is to stay in with the royal court. She’s a social animal, she’s attracted to Alex because he’s an iconoclast. He tells the truth and it’s so funny, because at first it sounds like gossip but he actually means it.
She’s keeping four or five guys in the air—I think they all want it but I don’t think any of them gets it. She’s not sleeping around, just promising things that don’t get delivered.”
Is Moliere’s The Misanthrope autobiographical?
“Some people think so. I don’t think Alex is necessarily him, but he did marry a younger woman and she did give him room to doubt her faithfulness on all kinds of levels. You do see that situation appear in many of his plays.”
What attracted you to this translation?
I met Samuel Buggeln in New York. We had a cup of coffee, he’s a really great guy. He speaks fluent French, and his translation is absolutely faithful to the original in its structure. The difference is that he updates the language, and he doesn’t rhyme it, as Moliere does.
The language—which has a lot of colloquial four letter words—makes this accessible to contemporary audiences, especially young audiences. And that’s a good audience for it because this is a play about youth, about fashion and pretense, gossip and position. We use a lot of music to show how contemporary it really is.”
The New York Times reviewer called the original production’s style “Bling Baroque.” How are you approaching it?
Bling Baroque! Elements of baroque contrasted with very contemporary stuff. It’s staged as a fashion show. The stage is like a fashion show runway, and the audience will be pretty much all around it. They’ll be close to the action. I saw a Ralph Lauren fashion show in Versailles—it was really extraordinary as an inspiration.
At the same time, we’re not making it about the set. It’s about the actors. Moliere wrote for actors and this is an actors’ piece.
It should be fast and furious, physical and funny. But there are some real consequences in the final act, so the actors have to take the characters seriously. Some of the humor comes from taking them seriously—it’s the human comedy. That’s what Moliere nailed. He got to the heart of that kind of comedy. The difficulty of acting it is that the characters aren’t cutouts—the actors have to feel it.
I think students will really like it, really enjoy the speed and the spectacle of it. It has an appeal and a connection to this audience. But anybody who expects the traditional Moliere will be horribly disappointed, and maybe terribly offended.”