Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Moliere’s “Too Learned Ladies”: Modern Adaptation at Parson’s Nose
Parson’s Nose Theater is a unique enterprise which, after existing for a number of years in other people’s houses, has finally found a home of its own in Old Town Pasadena. The group has as its mission “introducing classic theater to audiences of all ages”. In other words, they take classics of the canon and rewrite them in shorter form, utilizing less ardently poetic and/or antiquated speech, and thus make them approachable for those who find sitting through Shakespeare, Moliere, and the like to be both arduous and somewhat perplexing. Indeed, the point may be to have people fall in love with the ideas before they must wrestle with the greater complexities.
Whether one approves of this approach to great works or not, the company does have a purpose, put on display in their version of Moliere’s “Too Learned Ladies” (originally a 5-act play called “The Learned Ladies”) now running in their new and permanent space. A very late and rarely done Moliere piece, it ridicules both educational charlatans and women who embraced a faux intellectualism to rise in the social pecking order of the time. As such, it rings amusingly true to a modern audience, especially as done by Parson’s Nose, in modern dress using modern language in what can best be described as the Reader’s Digest version of the play.
In the household of Chrysale, there is significant upheaval. His wife, Philaminte has come under the spell of a charlatan named Trissotin, who spouts awful poetry, claims to understand the cosmos, and broaches no argument with his supposed genius. Having sucked in both her spinster sister-in-law, Belise, and her daughter Armande, Philaminte uses her supposedly superior knowledge as a weapon to control Chrysale, and rid the house of faithful servants who see through Trissotin’s con-artist ways.
Now her other daughter, Henriette, wishes to marry young Clitandre. Although Chrysale is happy to say yes, his role as henpecked spouse means he must get Philaminte’s approval as well. While his brother-in-law, Ariste, pushes him to stand up for himself and his daughter, Belise develops a theory that Clitandre is really in love with her, and Philaminte forges plans for a different fate for Henriette. How will it all end, and what can be done to shake the household free from the firm, cultish hold Trissotin has on so many?
Lance Davis, who co-wrote this adaptation of the original and also directs, plays Chrysale with a sheepishness which allows the rest of the play to make sense. Jill Rogosheske makes a powerful and pompous Philaminte, and John Rafter Lee has a ball spouting the ridiculous theories and horrible poetry of Trissotin. Dorothy Brooks has considerable comic effect as the foolish Belise, and Hannah Mae Sturges displays all the intense conviction of the recent convert as Armande.
Frasier Perez-Yadon gives the earnest suitor, Clitandre, the combination of sense and ardor which makes him a suitable foil for all the foolishness in his intended’s household. In this he is aided by Paul Perri’s solidly sensible Ariste. Kyla Schoer gives the hapless Henriette a genuine quality which makes her a standout. James Calvert, playing three distinct and essential roles, appears to be having the most fun, as a maid, a rather unfortunate “beat” styled poet, and the sensible notary called upon to sort out the disparate opinions of Henriette’s parents about her future.
Davis and Gary Lamb have given this silly story a modern framework of language which makes it very approachable, and lets the humor shine through. It is a most entertaining, if quite short, evening of theater. Jen Orsini’s simple set, and mostly modern-dress costuming, lets the whole thing move swiftly from scene to scene, and the pacing of the thing keeps the comedy of the play itself in focus.
Understand that there are, perhaps, things lost in the Parson’s Nose approach. Most translations/adaptations of Moliere try to preserve the concept that the originals were written in verse, and that is gone here. Yet, so are the cultural references which translate poorly to a modern audience, and the jokes about the court of Louis XIV which no longer resonate. Still, it is a great starting place for those who would love to know more about classic theater, but need to be convinced it can be approachable. If that is what you are after, this production of “Too Learned Ladies” will prove entertaining, non-threatening, and charmingly polished.
What: “Too Learned Ladies” When: through March 4, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays Where: Parson’s Nose Theater, 95 N. Marengo Ave. Suite 110 (entrance on Holly St.), in Pasadena How Much: $30 adults, $20 seniors, $15 students Info: (626) 403-7667 or http://www.ParsonsNose.com