Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: Lance Davis

Moliere’s “Too Learned Ladies”: Modern Adaptation at Parson’s Nose

l.to 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 http://www.ParsonsNose.com

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Quick and Silly: “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” from Parson’s Nose Productions

The cast of "The Pied Piper of Hamlin" looking suspicious at Parson's Nose

The cast of “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” looking suspicious at Parson’s Nose

Note: I was given incorrect information. This show is DEFINITELY for children, and should not have been listed as only for people 12 and up, but rather 8 and up. Please bring kids. They’ll have a ball.

The Parson’s Nose Productions theater company has a unique, and admirable, vision. Founded 15 years ago to bring live theater in palatable bits to those who have never been exposed to the classics, it has performed its condensed, minimalist versions of everything from Shakespeare to folk tales in many different venues, always with the purpose of sparking interest in the theatrical medium, not only for potential performers, but for the growth and nurture of an audience.

Their latest venture, and first “full production” (as opposed to staged reading) this season is an in-house musical adaptation of “The Pied Piper of Hamlin.” Creative, silly, and filled with action and movement, it is certain to charm children, and appeal to the adults who bring them as well.

In this rendition, Hamlin is famous for cheese-making, and the two families vying for prominence as the finest of the cheese makers are the Klutzes and the Butzes. As they concentrate on their competition, and on the acquisition of those items which will display their wealth, they neglect their town and their children. The rats come to eat the cheese bits lying about. The children look for something beyond their parents’ materialism.

Which makes this all sound much more serious than it is. The very juxtaposition of an obvious message and innate silliness makes the show work. The music – innocuous though not memorable – allows for enough song and dance to keep the show limber. The performers, some of whom are called upon to play several parts, do so with an enthusiasm and crisp pacing. The hour-long performance flashes by.

James Calvert and Christina Carlisi, as the two fathers, vibrate with indignation, bust buttons with pride, and offer up charmingly stereotypical views of men obsessed with position. Marisa Chandler and Susan Keller, as the two mothers, sweep into scenes with pompous pride, all the time emphasizing the fairy tale quality of the piece. This is accented by costuming (by Holly Victoria) and make-up which make them seem remarkably similar to the characters painted on traditional porcelains of eastern Europe.

As the children, Tilsit and Gouda (underscoring the family obsessions), Ben Campbell and Jessica Evans prove likable and earnest, creating the obvious contrast between these imaginative and innocent individuals and their grasping elders. The choice to use adult actors to play these parts works well for the plot, and underscores the fantasy elements of this tale.

In a triple-contribution which rarely works for productions, but does this time, the group’s co-founder Lance Davis, who wrote and presumably also directed this venture, acts as narrator (when a rat) and mayor of the town to fine effect. Jill Rogosheske makes a thoughtful, even tempered piper. Several members of the cast double as rats, when needed, with an easy, clever costuming that is both well crafted and suitable for the quick changes the show demands.

Carlisi, Calvert and Evans also provide the choreography – occasionally formal, more often a take on folk movement, which is part of this show’s charm. Indeed, the movement, intensity and pacing are the highlights. The performers sing with great enthusiasm, though not always with concert-like accuracy, and the story sweeps along so quickly that one blinks and it is over.

The creatively low-budget set and props are made to travel, and I’m sure this will. The audience – many of whom were children – stayed engaged throughout, and came away buzzing with enthusiasm.

More importantly, this is one of the purposes of theater in today’s world: engaging those who would not otherwise set foot in a theater with the charm and immediacy of live performance. Not only children, though they were obviously a focus for this show (even though the thing is advertised only for kids 12 and up), but adults, as the rest of their planned season underscores.

Informationally, this upcoming season rolls forward with the ubiquitous “A Christmas Carol”, followed by a series of comedies now part (even if sometimes a mild part) of the theatrical imagination: “The Barber of Seville” (not the opera, the original play), “The Madwoman of Chaillot”, and finally “Our American Cousin” – now known mostly as the comedy Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was shot.

What: “The Pied Piper of Hamlin (A Musical)” When: Through November 23, 7 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays Where: Lineage Performing Arts Center, 89 S. Fair Oaks Ave. in Pasadena How Much: “Pay As You Will” ($20 suggested) Info: (626) 403-7667 or http://www.parsonsnose.com

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