The Misanthrope, Next Theatre Company. It’s not hard to see why contemporary writers would find the idea of updating Moliere’s 1666 comic masterpiece attractive. The crabby protagonist, Alceste, is a brilliant creation, a man so determined to avoid hypocrisy and dishonesty in all his dealings that he’s alienated everyone. And the conflict between his inflexible moral system and lust/love for a morally suspect flirt is as old as sex itself. It must have seemed mere child’s play for translator Martin Crimp to transpose the action from the 17th-century French court to contemporary London–and voila, instant commentary on the moral vacuity of modern life.

Crimp’s 21st-century versions of Moliere’s courtiers, fops, and fools are inspired. Particularly piquant is his rendition of a parasitic showbiz journalist (hilariously rendered by Sarah Wellington) who’s the actor’s best friend one minute, a betrayer of confidences the next.

Still, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed, and not just by Jason Loewith’s production, which is sometimes smart, funny, and sexy and other times leaden. Nick Sandys makes a fine eternally irritable Alceste, but Kati Brazda isn’t always convincing as his slutty lover. The staging and script have some fine moments, but despite many modern instances of eternal foibles, the play remains mired in the feudal mind-set of three and a half centuries ago. With his knack for satire and the way we speak now–in profane, self-absorbed, half-finished thoughts–why didn’t Crimp write his own play?