Theatre UBC

Molière's The Learned Ladies translated by Richard Wilbur

Dates and Venue 7 – 16 February 2008 @ 8pm | Frederic Wood Theatre, University of British Columbia

Director Patrick Gauthier Sets Stephania Schwartz Costumes Kristin Robinson Sound Craig Alfredson, Patrick Caracas, and James Chen Stage Manager Michelle (Young-Bin) Ha

Reviewer Jane Penistan

Moliere’s The Learned Ladies (Les Femmes savantes) is a satirical comedy of manners. One of the playwright's later plays, it treats of gullibility, hypocrisy, fraud, and the place of women in society.

In 17th-century France a woman was not expected to be interested in literature and politics, but rather to spend her intelligence and energy in running a household – no mean task – and caring for her children, her husband and relatives.

The organization of these did not satisfy the intellectual ambitions of those well to do women whose children were grown up and who wished to aspire to an understanding and appreciation of literature. With no education in this field, such women were easily taken in by fashionable pseudo intellectuals.

Philaminte (Maura Halloran) is one of these, a domineering woman with ideas of literary grandeur. She has coerced her older daughter Armande (Maryanne Renzetti) and her sister-in-law Belise (Kate Hilderman) to be of the same persuasion. Chrysale (Gord Myren) is her easy going, anything for peace husband, whose brother Ariste (Shaun Aquiline) tries to encourage him to be more authoritative.

It is only when the younger daughter, Henriette (Courtney Lancaster) is destined by her mother to become the wife of the posturing, fraudulent Trissotin (Nick Fontaine), that her father shakes himself out of his laissez faire to impose his authority, so that his daughter will marry whom she wishes, the blunt and sensible Clitandre of Aslam Husain.

Martine, the family maid, is the out spoken maid who puts every one in a proper place, at the resolution of the conflicts in the comedy. Yoshie Bancroft plays this part with wit and gamine insouciance. It is difficult for young actors to play mature roles convincingly, particularly in a stylized comedy.

It is those of the cast who are the younger characters who are the more successful, though Gord Myron accedes to his place as the master of the house with surprised aplomb and satisfaction. Shaun Aquiline has considerable maturity and assurance throughout and is the most successful as an older member of the family.

The elaborate costumes are almost caricatures of the overblown style of the late 17th century. These necessitate elegant movement and graceful use of posture and gesture. Such skills are acquired with long practice, and consequently, could not be perfected in one rehearsal period, though the cast does its best to emulate an age of overdone elegance.

The set is an excellent amalgam of the graceful furniture of the period with the clever use of modern technology to provide an opulent and spacious salon of fashionable Paris.

This is a colourful opulent production of a witty critical social comedy.

© 2008 Jane Penistan