The Learned Ladies
Translated by Richard Wilbur
Irish Classical Theater
April 24, 2008
Photo: Lawrence Rowswell
Are you an insufferable intellectual, prone to boring people to tears with questionable prose and other faults of an overly self-interested mind? Alas, a cure is at hand in the way of one polished production of Molière's The Learned Ladies, translated by Richard Wilbur and now playing at the Irish Classical Theater Company, Buffalo's flagship theater troupe. In our current atmosphere of heavy spin, pre-digested sound bites, and other assaults on the word, Molière's satire on academic pretension feels timely. Remember his attack was not on women's efforts to become intellectual equals of men, but on knowledge as a kind of fashionable currency.
The Learned Ladies takes us inside a bourgeois Parisian household overrun by a salon of women who easily swoon for sappy sonnets and other ecstatic pretenses of learning. The trouble begins when the non-intellectual daughter, Henriette, confesses her love for Clitandre to her philosophy loving-sister Armande, who was once courted by Clitandre. Armande tells her to marry philosophy, but the big problem emerges when Philaminte, Henriette's shrew of a mom, reveals she has already selected a mate for her unschooled daughter, Trissotin, her devoted tutor in all things learned. Henriette's hen-pecked father, Chrysale, sides with Henriette and a good tangle ensues.
The cast attacks this play with a brazen spirit. Robert Rutland plays Chrysale, the doormat of a hubby who finally stands his ground, with a keen sense of mania. We never know what he's going to do next. Josephine Hogan's gaze will melt anything in its path in her fiery portrayal of Philaminte, the domineering book-crazed mother. Diane Curley makes a level-headed Henriette, and Kate LoConti is suitably haughty as Armande. Kelli Bocock-Natale is hoot as Belise, Chrysale's loony sister, who secretly believes Clitandre is in love with her. Tim Newell swaggers in as Vadius, the new hot tutor on the block, with a cunning performance. Kelly Ferguson-Moore as Martine, the grammar-challenged maid, Kevin Zak as the obligatory hunchbacked servant and Doug Crane as the stoic no nonsense clerk each add distinct performances.
ICTC's Producing Director Fortunato Pezzimenti directs with an ear for high comedy, keeping the pace moving, the language flying and the satire humming. Ron Schwartz's stylish set provides just enough bling, dazzle and punch to conjure a Parisian salon. Kate E. Palamé’s costumes contain such whimsy as a pair of turquoise leggings, painted bows, and other zany flourishes. Brian Cavanagh's bright sunny lights amp up the over top feel of this production. All in all, the play feels as fresh as the warm-for-April Buffalo breeze just out the door. Should you be prone to dropping Nietzsche or Proust into your sentences to impress and annoy your less heady friends, expect a complete remission.