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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Molière's The Learned Ladies
Stylish Outdoor Summer Entertainment

Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey


Alison Weller, Marion Adler and Susan Maris
For its annual Outdoor Stage presentation, the Shakespeare Theatre has staged a beguiling production of Molière's classic 17th century farce The Learned Ladies. The play, which was written in French verse, is being performed in the English verse translation by Richard Wilbur. The felicity of Wilbur's translation is such that it is very rarely performed in English in any other version.

The setting is the luxurious Paris house of Chrysale. His daughter Henriette is in love with Clitandre, and the pair intend to marry. However, her mother, Philaminte, is determined that Henriette marry Trissotin. The latter is a bad poet and pretentious pseudo scholar who has gained the patronage and good favor of Philaminte by flattering her in regard to her intellect and intellectual pretensions. In camp with Philaminte are Henriette's older sister Armande, who had once rejected Clitandre's courtship of her, but is convinced that he is still in thrall to her. Philaminte and Armande along with the sisters' silly aunt Bélise are The Learned Ladies who, with the encouragement of the manipulative Trissotin, have acquired an inflated view of themselves.

Chrysale supports Henriette in her desire to marry her beloved Clitandre, but he is dominated by the fearsome Philaminte.

A quotation from Wilbur's translation would best provide one with a sense of his delightful verse. In response to Armande's opposition to her entering into "coarse, disgusting" marriage, Henrette says:

You and your intellect would not be here
If Mother's traits had all been fine, my dear,
And it's most fortunate for you that she
Was not wed solely to philosophy
Relent, and tolerate in me, I pray
That urge through which you saw the light of day,
And do not bid me be like you, and scorn
The hopes of some small scholar to be born

The performances are delightful. Under the direction of Brian B. Crowe, each of Moliere's principals manages to maximize the play's farcical hilarity without shredding its satisfying elegance and grace. In the role of Clitandre, Maurice Jones delivers the versification so artfully that he consistently conveys the intonation and rhythm of natural speech while making each phrase employed by Clitandre clear, precise and impactful. Rachel Fox as his Henriette proves a spunky, delightful and appealing ingénue.

Marion Adler's Philaminte bestrides the stage in queenly comic high dudgeon, garnering beaucoup audience laughter without once with giving any indication that she is anything but deadly serious. In addition to Adler, there are a bushelful of excellent comedic performances which maintain the fun and laughter continually throughout. Susan Maris is delightfully starchy as the hypocritical Armande while Alison Weller is delightfully daft as the delusional Bélise. Clark Scott Carmichael is artfully witty as the pompous and posturing Trissotin. James Hickok's wryly meek Chrysale makes likeable foolishness a treat (Hickok doubles as Vadius, Trissotin's "friend"). Each of these major roles is performed to comic perfection.

Lindsay Sterling (Ariste, Henriette's helpful uncle); Christine Sanders (the cook Martine); and Felix Mayes (Notary/Servant) adroitly add deft touches to the evening's delights.

The physical production features a deftly curved, bright and elegant, angular set (with cursive French text on the wall) by Charlie Calvert and witty, yet elegant costumes by Paul H. Canada. The costumes of the trio of learned ladies feature jackets decorated with Latin words and geometric formulae and their spectacular wigs are decorated with books (Philaminte), a globe (Bélise), and a magnifying glass (Armande). Trissotin's wig is bedecked with writing paper, a quill and a bottle of ink.

Employing Richard Wilbur's impeccable English verse translation, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey Summer Outdoor Stage is providing us with Molière's The Learned Ladies in a production fit for all seasons.

The Learned Ladies continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday through Saturday 8 PM/ Sunday 7:30 PM Matinees: Saturday 4:30 PM) through July 27, 2014, at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's Outdoor Stage, 2 Convent Road (at Convent Station), Morristown, NJ (on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth). Box Office: 973-408-5600; online: www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

The Learned Ladies by Molière; Translated to English verse by Richard Wilbur; directed by Brian B. Crowe

Cast
Armande………………………………...Susan Maris
Henriette………………………………..Rachael Fox
Clitandre……………………………...Maurice Jones
Bélise……………………....................Alison Weller
Ariste…………………....................Lindsay Smiling
Chrysale/Vadius……………………......John Hickok
Martine………………....................Christine Sanders
Philaminte…………………..................Marion Adler
Trissotin………………….....Clark Scott Carmichael
Lépine/Notary………………………….Felix Mayes
Footmen…………….......George Labusohr, Tim Liu
…………….....................Jordan Parasynchuk-Buhat
Chambermaids………………………...Lizzie Docel
……………......Courtney McGowan, Marisa Tejeda


Photo: Jerry Dalia, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey


- Bob Rendell



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