The School for Wives Shines in Scintillating Production of Richard Wilbur's Delightful English Verse Translation
Also see Bob's review of Wittenberg
Arnolphe, a pompous, prosperous middle aged fool is planning to soon marry his 17 year old ward Agnes. Having delighted in flamboyantly mocking others who were made cuckolds by their wives, Arnolphe is determined that he will never wear the horns. He confides to his friend Chrysalde that he has kept Agnes in a convent school since she was four years old with the stipulation that she be deprived of all knowledge of the ways of the world. He feels certain that Agnes' innocence will prevent the possibility of any such an occurrence.
In anticipation of their wedding, Arnolphe has moved Agnes to a house where she is under the supervision of Alain and Georgette, his two simpleton servants. Here, unbeknownst to Arnolphe, Agnes already has a young suitor. He is Horace, and Agnes has fallen for him head over heels. Horace is the son of a an old friend of Arnolphe. Unaware that Arnolphe is the "old fool" who has locked Agnes away. Seeking Arnolphe's assistance in his courtship of her, Horace repeatedly confides his (and Agnes') plans to outwit him.
The setting of The School For Wives is a provincial French town. David Gallo's set is complex and richly imaginative, yet clean, spacious and enchanting. The front of the house behind whose walls Agnes is ensconced resembles a storybook castle. It is set on a large round turntable that rests atop a triangular platform whose base is downstage. When the turntable rotates to reveal the "inside" of the house, the latter which includes Agnes' upstairs bedroom is deftly suggested in a tiny area by the design of the interior of the front wall and a few appurtenances. Most of the spacious area is a large garden with an attached gardening shed. The streets nearby the house are marked by a series of benches parallel to and along the sides of the triangle and interspersed with ornate street lamps. Director Wing-Davy raises the hilarity as he (or, as accurately, Georgette) memorably employs a bench part as a prop during the farcical fracas to which the second act builds.
We are told that the 17th century play has been re-set to 1958. I could not so specifically place the spiffy costumes designed by Emily Rebholz. Still, the men are dressed in "modern" clothing with vests and handkerchiefs in jacket pockets, and wearing hats which were nearing the end of their popularity at that time. Thus, the production brings the more formal world of Molière closer to our contemporary world without trying to shoehorn it into today's world with its revolutionary mores.
With a natural flow of speech, the entire cast mellifluously tickles our ears with the rhymes and iambic pentameter which Richard Wilbur has employed to translate Moliere's French language style verse.
Robert Stanton conveys the anguish and insecurity which underlie Arnolphe's behaviors without tamping down the insensitivity which enables us to laugh at his desperate behavior and comeuppance. Phillipa Soo (Agnes) and Korey Jackson (Horace) are lively and likeable and warmly well matched as the newly enamored young lovers. Real life siblings Bree Elrod (Georgette) and Carson Elrod (Alain) bring much comic invention to the roles of Arnolphe's avaricious and addled servants. They bring a joyful enthusiasm to their performances that is infectious.
Billy Eugene Jones smoothly portrays Chyrsalde as a man of sweet reason. Keith Reddin is an appropriately nonplussed Orontes (Horace's father). Steven Rattazzi does outstanding comic turns in two short, but impactful roles.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Richard Wilbur's English verse (rhymed iambic pentameter) translations of Molière's three verse plays - The Misanthrope, Tartuffe and The School for Wives - have become staples of American regional theatre. Still, Mark Wing-Davey's exemplary Two River Theater production of The School for Wives is both a singular accomplishment, and a totally delightful entertainment.
The School for Wives by Molière; Translated into English Verse by Richard Wilbur; directed by Mark Wing-Davey