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Dressed to Kill

by James Yeara on February 16, 2012

By Jean Baptiste Moliere, translated by Richard Wilbur, directed by Tina Packer Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, through March 25
The Learned Ladies

The Learned Ladies at Shakespeare & Company

Wit’s not the thing you need around the house,

And it’s no joy to have a bookish spouse.

When I get married, you can bet your life

My man will study nothing but his wife

–Martine, Act 5, scene 3

Blonde Armande (Alexandra Lincoln) is the pedantic older sister of brunette Henriette (Kelly Galvin); the former is dressed in light pink gown and ribbons while the latter is a vision of sunshine yellow with sky-blue ribbons.

Clitandre (Enrico Spada) loved Armande, but she spurned him, so he now loves Henriette, who comforted him; he is bedecked in a sunshine-yellow frock coat, sky-blue ribbons, and curly brunette wig.

Belise (Jennie M. Jadow) is the sisters’ mad aunt, who thinks all men who look above her love her; she believes that when Clitandre looks to her for advice on gaining permission to marry Henriette, he truly loves the batty aunt, garnished in Valentine-red gown and envy-green ribbons, a beauty spot on her right cheek.

Chrysale (Daniel Joeck) is the bewigged father of the sisters and brother-in law to the batty aunt; he’s attired in a pink frock coat and carries the slenderest of canes.

Ariste (Stephanie Hedges) is his sister, sagacious and practical in an orange gown and yellow ribbons, with an orange feather in her cap.

Martine (Brittany Morgan) is the kitchen maid with a heart as finger-lickin’ good as her Southern-fried patois and diction; her philosophy is a direct descendent of the Wife of Bath’s. She’s simply dressed in pale blue skirt and vest, and noted for grammar that’s not the best.

Philaminte (Dana Harrison) is the wife of Chrysale, mother to Armande and Henriette, sister to Belise, and sister-in-law to Artiste; she’s all done up in a brick-red gown and jaundice- yellow ribbons, a white feather in her hat.

Trissotin (Ryan Winkles) is a pompous, pretentious poet beloved by Armande, her mother, and her aunt, but not by Henriette—which is too bad because the seemingly ethereal poet is more of an epicurean poetaster, and has an eye for Henriette. He’s dazzling in sizzling long red wig, blood-red vest and matching short pants; he has white lace ruffles on his blouse and sleeves, yellow and red ribbons aplenty, orange tights, and a red velvet cap with matching red feather. He flounces a white lace hanky as a comic accessory.

The mille-feuille puffed costuming (by Govane Lohbauer and assistant Stella Schwartz) acts as the comedic equivalent of martial arts belts; the color scheme also helps keep track of who’s who in The Learned Ladies. While happily the costumes supply their own mirth, they aren’t the entire show; the acting here matches Shakespeare & Company’s benchmark of words tripping winningly from the tongues of this able and funny cast. As director Tina Packer stated in the post-show Q&A, “Moliere needs terrific energy and young actors have that; they have energy, commitment, and they can go to extremes.”

Truer words were never spoken, as the cast captured the verve and wit of the rhyming couplets, causing frequent laughter and spontaneous applause from the audience. As translator Richard Wilbur stated in the Q&A, “[Actors] should hit the rhyme . . . so long as it isn’t forced, it just sounds like two people talking.” Particularly adept at this were Jadow as batty aunt Belise, and Joeck as befuddled father Chrysale.

In another triumph for the comedic Jadow, she and Joeck engaged in a mirror exercise of sight and sound, an extended bit of lazzi where the mad, lovesick aunt was mocked by the enraged father; this was just before intermission, and created peals of laughter in the audience. The two were the visual and aural equivalent of a Pixar animated film. Jadow frequently vocalized so that a simple “well” became a whole iambic pentameter line that seemed to double back and rhyme with itself. It’s a winning performance in a play to warm even the dreariest winter’s day.