Writer (and OC Weekly theater scribe) Joel Beers and director Patrick Gwaltney have for some reason set this musical adaptation of Molière's best play in a karaoke bar. The result is a play that often seems at cross purposes with itself: one walks away remembering not the playwright's broadsides at social hypocrisy but the kitschy musical interludes. What's more, we quickly find ourselves hating the deeply flawed hero, who vows to tell the truth—and nothing but the truth—regardless of the consequences.
Misanthrope's grandiose musical numbers are initially exhilarating. But they end up not working for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that there are too many people cramping the small stage. It doesn't help, either, that the un-miked voice of Robert Dean Nunez in the title role is just too thin to be heard much of the time.
The main flaw, though, is that instead of offering a Dennis Potter Pennies From Heaven-type ironic subtext, the songs merely restate what we've just seen: a couple fights, makes up, and then sings Peaches & Herb's "Reunited." Nunez rails against the hypocrites around him and sings Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" or Billy Joel's "Honesty," etc., etc., etc.
Molière's couplets look to be intact, and some of the actors—specifically Patti Cumby, Cynthia Ryanen and Aaron Wyne—rise above monotonous, rhyming delivery. But Nunez, usually an excellent actor, delivers his dialogue like a preschooler reciting poetry. Completely miscast, he bobbles lines and rarely makes eye contact with the other actors, instead gazing up over the audience's heads as if at some unseen teleprompter. The character's relentless honesty is supposed to be attractive—albeit obsessive—but under Beers and Gwaltney's watch, Nunez is a mean-spirited little black rain cloud who can't have fun and wants to shit on those who can. He should be earning our sympathy, but I just wanted him to get off the freakin' stage.
The Misanthrope: The Karaoke Musical! at Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Through May 11. $12-$15.