So I saw THE LIBERTINE on Friday night because Claire Warden was performing in it. Claire was great of course, and most of the acting was very good. But the staging was to die for. They did some amazing work with lacquered panels on casters. I was quite impressed.
It was a shame that all that effort and accomplishment went into a not very good play.
Now admittedly any play that goes out of its way to say "look how bawdy we are!" rubs me the wrong way, and from the moment the play opens with that obligatory bawdy-time cackling (HAAAH-hah-hah-hah-hah!) I knew this was Not My Cup of Tea.
But the real problem is the plot: a rich alcoholic psychopath drinks himself to death at an early age.
The play opens with the main character, John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester declaring that we won't like him. And it's true - not only did I not like him, I didn't care when he died.
The entire play is mainly a string of scenes to show us just how saucy Jack is. This gets tiresome real fast. The only interesting relationship he has with anybody is with the actor who becomes a sort of protege. But they get a few disjointed scenes over the course of the play that deliver no emotional resonance.
I don't think THE LIBERTINE is supposed to be a cautionary tale - that would certainly not be considered in any way cool or fashionable these days - but it could so easily be seen as one. I mean yeah he drank too much and he spent lots of time with prostitutes, so he ended up a drunk with syphilis. Duh.
I call him a psychopath because the character in the play - and I don't know how close this is to the real guy - has exactly the same characteristics displayed by the psychopaths in the case studies in the book "The Mask of Sanity": he has a variety of emotions but none of them are deep, he betrays every single person he's involved with, from his wife to his mistress to his friends, to the King, but in spite of that, his charm and ability to fake emotions gets them to defend him again and again. He lies whenever it's convenient and has no remorse about it. And he's bored all the time and so always has to "go too far" just to keep himself entertained.
Those case studies were definitely fascinating, at first, but after the third or fourth one they become routine because the behaviors of psychopaths are so much alike. And that's what THE LIBERTINE is like - at first kind of fascinating with all the saucy bawdy naughty shenanigans - but eventually routine and meaningless. Really, he couldn't die fast enough for my liking.
I guess somebody must enjoy this stuff or they wouldn't do it. But what they get out of it I just don't understand - it's not like the world is lacking in bawdiness - anybody with an Internet connection could get the most intense depravity at the click of a mouse. At this point a non-ironic cautionary tale would be the most unusual, "edgy" and surprising thing any theatre group could do.