Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: John Rafter Lee

Moliere’s “Too Learned Ladies”: Modern Adaptation at Parson’s Nose r.: Hannah Mae Sturges, John Rafter Lee, Jill Rogosheske and Dorothy Brooks go cultish in Parson’s Nose’s adaptation of Moliere, “Too Learned Ladies”

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


The Lion in Winter in small: a great play on the small stage

The cast of The Lion in Winter at Sierra Madre Playhouse in a moment of tension [photo: Gina Long]

The cast of The Lion in Winter at Sierra Madre Playhouse in a moment of tension [photo: Gina Long]

James Goldman plays and screenplays have a reputation for being talky. But what elegant talk! Take, as example, one of his best-known works, “The Lion in Winter.” Oscar-winning in film form, it does even better on the stage, where a slight claustrophobia adds to the tension of one dysfunctional royal family sequestered in a castle trying to sort out little details like succession. This particularly when we know, or think we know, many of the family members from legend and ballad.

In the new production at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, the smaller stage emphasizes this sense of captivity, enhanced as it is by Gary Wissman’s versatile, representational set. There, director Michael Cooper has gathered a cast ranging from good to very good indeed, all of whom live the characters they wear.

The story follows a gathering of English King Henry II’s family – three sons including Richard the Lionheart, the John who would one day be forced to sign the Magna Carta, and the middle son Geoffrey, a clever schemer whose fate was to never sit on a throne. They are there with the boys’ mother, the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine, whom Henry has kept locked in a castle for years, Henry’s current mistress Alais, a French princess sent at a young age to be raised in the English court, and Alais’ brother Philip, recently become the King of France.

Philip wants Alais to either marry one of the sons, or for Henry to return her dowry. Eleanor wants Henry to certify Richard as his successor. Henry wants John instead. It becomes part political game, part tossing of threats, and part intellectual exercise. This, in a storm of articulate, memorable, quotable dialogue.

Adam Burch captures the determinedly solid warrior that is Richard. Clay Bunker gives Geoffrey the requisite wise-but-sneaky quality which makes him occasionally play chess with his brothers’ lives. James Weeks gives young John just enough of the spoiled and juvenile brat to make him irritating to everyone but his father. Macleish Day radiates youth and sensuality more than intellectual brilliance but makes that work as Philip. Alison Lani’s Alais stands back and analyses her status as political pawn, in balance with her simpler, explicit love for Henry, the man. All these characters work together beautifully to create the world in which the two towering characters must sling their arrows.

John Rafter Lee as Henry II, and Diane Hurley as Eleanor of Aquitaine [photo: Gina Long]

John Rafter Lee as Henry II, and Diane Hurley as Eleanor of Aquitaine [photo: Gina Long]

John Rafter Lee, at least from the waist up, makes a fine Henry – large and commanding, gentle and practical and deeply wounded by turns. If only he would pace and rock less, and stop shuffling his feet in a most unkinglike manner. As his combatant, equal, and wife, Diane Hurley makes increasingly fine work of Eleanor, finding the strength and intellectual power without ever becoming (as one has to be tempted to become) any kind of echo of Katharine Hepburn’s Oscar-winning portrait. It’s a strong performance.

The direction is tight, and the ensemble strong. Indeed, the only thing which tends to pull one back are Carlos Brown’s costumes. Fine on the women, several of the men’s costumes are poorly constructed, pooching out in distracting ways, unevenly sewn, and certainly not the kind of wear a king would put on.

Still, that aside, this is a good play given a reasonably fine airing. That delightful moment when Eleanor says to herself, in the midst of total upheaval, “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?” gets just as much a laugh as ever. Indeed, this production finds the humor where it lives, and revels – as the play should – in the sheer, ferocious intelligence of its two central protagonists. Henry and Eleanor remain entertained by and appreciative of the superior intellects they use against each other. Dysfunctional they may be and ostensibly yearning for peace, but calm isn’t everything.

What: “The Lion in Winter” When: Through November 16, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays Where: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W.Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre How Much: $25 general, $22 seniors/students, $15 children under 12 Info: (626) 355-4318 or

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