Moliere goes to the mall

Three one-act plays by Moliere are performed by New York Classical Theatre at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden through March 11.

The phrase “use your indoor voice” has no traction in the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden, which is a cavernous 10-story courtyard with a grand central staircase and windows overlooking the Hudson. Anything less than shouting gets muffled here, in the plaza’s broad maw.

However, Moliere’s farcical comedies don’t need to be bellowed. The Parisian playwright’s works are highly satirical and self-aggrandizing in their own right, so they beg for subtlety and a steady directorial hand. There is none of that in “Playing Moliere,” which comprises three of the master’s one-acts running back-to-back in Battery Park City through March 11.

New York Classical Theatre is known for creating site-specific works; aside from an office pavilion, you might find the company performing in the park or even on a moving ferry. Seeing 17th-century parody in a contemporary business setting — at 7 p.m., suits are still heading home from work — is a unique experience. The modern atmosphere should feel like a stark contrast to the period costumes and ceremonious language, but somehow makes the production more intimate. Viewers cluster together on benches or sit directly on the marble floors; accidental passersby respect the performance while heading for the PATH. But sitting three feet from the lamps that help define the “stages,” it is still hard to hear all the quick and clever turns of phrase that are vital for getting the full gist of Moliere.

A cast of eight rotate parts in “Two Precious Maidens Ridiculed,” “The Forced Marriage” and “The Imaginary Cuckold.” Thankfully, all three plays total scarcely more than an hour.

Kids in attendance are riveted by the over-the-top acting and goofy costumes (think: big skirts, bigger wigs and at least one character in drag). This concept could be smartly marketed toward families, if only it didn’t cut so close to dinner and bedtime. Adults may appreciate the unusual setting, but ultimately ask for more from the show. But at least it’s free, and it’s an approvable example of theater thinking outside of the box.


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