IF YOU GO
What: Moliere farce about a pompous French bachelor trying to raise the perfect wife
When: 8 p.m. March 29, 30, 31 and April 5, 6 and 7
Where: Foulds Theater at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts complex, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers
Cost: $18; $10 for students
Information: 239-936-3239 or theatreconspiracy.org
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
FORT MYERS — What makes the perfect wife? Wisdom? Beauty? Riches? No, no, monsieur! Listen to the wise Arnolphe! "There are four things only she must know: To say her prayers, love me, spin and sew!" Thus begins Theatre Conspiracy's hilarious production of Moliere farce "The School for Wives."
Moliere, the stage name of Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, produced acclaimed comedies and farces during the mid-17th century. His works often poke at the morality and overblown aristocratic manners of the period. Gulfshore Playhouse produced "Tartuffe" in April 2009.
"The School for Wives" concerns pompous Arnolphe (Scott Thomson) who schemes to raise Agnes (Brittany Albury) from a child to be the perfect wife: simple, ignorant and completely unable to cuckold him. Plans go awry once attractive young Horace (Bernard Gomez) bows to Agnes from beyond the garden gate. As Arnolphe struggles to save his impending marriage, Horace and Agnes plan to escape.
Director Bill Taylor leaps gleefully into this tangle. Like last spring's thrilling "Medea," Taylor displays a deft touch in making long-forgotten classics sing using amateur actors, minimal staging and an attention to the particulars of diction and delivery. Likewise with "Medea," he's also trimmed the script and brings the show in at a fast-paced and snarky two hours.
"The School for Wives" and its particular theme of a husband desperate to avoid appearing foolish, requires an arch, almost foppish style of delivery. Moliere crafted a farce of words, not a racing, pratfall-filled, stumbling comedy. Listen for delicious lines like "I've known men who've undergone much pain / because they've married girls with too much brain!"
Taylor pushes his cast to adopt the mincing mannerisms of the French aristocracy (and two hapless servants) along with the singsong delivery patterns dictated by Moliere's lovely poetry. The resulting pageantry, supported in no small part by Diana Waldier's magnificent costumes with acres of lace, hose and ribbons, constructs an entertaining evening.
Thomson, in a sparkling gold frock coat, carries the show in spectacular fashion. His Arnolphe rarely leaves the stage - and much of the tongue twisting dialogue belongs to him. Thomson puts just enough topspin on the words to give them bite - and he makes the show's comedic moments sing.
Some of the show's best scenes feature Thomson berating Arnolphe's chosen-for-their-dimness servants Alain (Thomas Marsh) and Georgette (Pam Erdman). The pair fail repeatedly at their duties - requiring their master to bash them about the head.
Taylor stages these scenes with a hint of true farcical depravity. As Arnolphe chases Alain and Georgette around the set, they scurry on all fours to hide under a bench, only to become stuck - whereupon Arnolphe grabs their caps and shakes their heads. After they back out in a bid to escape, Thomson sits Erdman's back as she tries to crawl between his legs. Ahh, the French.
Back-and-forth discussions with Chrysalde (a brilliant Rick Sebastian) sparkle. Sebastian, resplendent in a beribboned costume of pale dove gray dripping with more lace, perches with the perfumed handkerchief of the aristocracy held delicately in his fingers, waving it beneath his nose at every mention of Arnolpe's wild ideas. Sebastian fairly minces across the stage, shoes decorated with rosettes, spouting the words and whipping his lace-bedecked arms back and forth.
Brittany Albury makes an appealing Agnes. Waldier gives her a creamy white gown to symbolize the girl's simplicity, with a wide pink slash to represent her attempts at guile. Albury makes the best attempt among the cast to really grab Moliere's prose and whip it back out with style. Brief scenes with Thomson give lie to the play's message about the powerless situation that women did face during the time period - and the hopeless cause of women fated for a loveless marriage.
Cheeky Bernard Gomez, his hair tied back in a ponytail, brings freshness and a passionate enthusiasm to lover Horace, although it was sometimes difficult to hear him Saturday. Reliable comic actor Robert Feigenblatt makes the most of a brief scene as a notary. He whips an enormous feathered pen through the air, chases Arnolphe through the set while spouting terms of a marriage contract and finally leaves in disgust at an inability to pursue his duties.
"The School for Wives" chalks up a reliably fun, literate and entertaining experience. Taylor keeps the pace humming and the actors obviously have fun bouncing the silly words around on the stage. Watch as Thomson's Arnolphe tries - and fails - to mold the perfect wife. Wait for silly servants Alain and Georgette to get their comeuppance. And marvel at Diana Waldier's gorgeous, glittering costumes.
"I want no intellectual, if you please, who'll talk of nothing but her Tuesday teas!" Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.