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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 Battle Between Hubris and Faith: “God’s Man in Texas” as character study

The cast of "God's Man in Texas" consult over tea at Sierra Madre Playhouse

The cast of “God’s Man in Texas” consult over tea at Sierra Madre Playhouse

There is a memorable moment in the film “Oh God” when the deity, played by George Burns, shakes his head over a wealthy television preacher: “If what he wants is to make money, let him sell Earth Shoes.” The struggle between faith and mammon which comes with huge religious enterprises and megachurches is one worthy of examination.

And that’s what David Rambo’s “God’s Man in Texas” wrestles with: the positive, even saving energy such a community can provide, yet the potential for hubris, insulation and extravagance. Now at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, a polished, clean-lined production gives the audience food for thought.

Dr. Philip J. Gottschall, now in his 80s, has built an entire community around his enormous conservative church. There is a television broadcast, school from kindergarten to college, recreational activities, annual parades – a community at once welcoming and insular. His wife’s Bible study group contains the political movers and shakers of the Houston area. The take in the collection plate is in the thousands every service.

But Dr. Gottschall is in his 80s, and the board which runs the church’s enterprises is looking for an eventual replacement. After various try-outs, they seem to have picked Dr. Jeremiah Mears. Thus begins a struggle for the soul of this huge institution between the man who see himself in every part of the thing, to the man who wants to make it his own. Through it all, they are each assisted and given certain reality checks by Hugo, a devoted member of the church’s 12-step programs who provides the practical voice of the common man.

Ted Heyck gives Dr. Gottschall the right mixture of pronouncement, paranoia and earthly pride, as a man who cannot admit to his own aging, or that anyone else could really be as right as he is. Christian Lebano’s particular timbre of calm as Dr. Mears makes a fine balance against the intensity of Heyck’s character. Thoughtful, devoted, but increasingly frustrated, his demeanor as well as his lines underscore the differences in the approach of the two men to the same topic. Paul Perri is a hoot as Hugo, at once fragile and practical, silly and dedicated.

Director Nancy Youngblut keeps this very talky, often amusing piece visual, utilizing the tiny SMP stage effectively and creating a sense of a huge church out of nothing but a pulpit and the look in her characters’ eyes. This is aided by the particularly fine (if a tad wobbly) set by D. Martyn Bookwalter, which creates specific spaces with artful minimalism.

Obviously, this play leans a lot on sermons and talk of religion. Yet, the interest comes from the balance of those religious sentiments with individuals’ actions – and the purposes behind the words, when spoken. Even audience members who do not echo the passions of those onstage will find “God’s Man in Texas” an interesting, if not overly deep study of character and ethics.

What: “God’s Man in Texas” When: through May 18, 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, $15 youth, $12 children 12 and under

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