Play incorporates modern elements
“No fool is greater than a learned fool,” proclaims the character Clitandre in the School of Drama’s production of The Learned Ladies. The play chronicles the love between Clitandre (junior acting major Lachlan McKinney) and Henriette (junior musical theater major Olivia Harris).
The “learned ladies” collectively refer to Henriette’s mother, aunt, and sister. Each of these women is obsessed with the idea of being educated, especially in “verse, prose, Latin, and Greek.” Henriette’s sister Armande refuses marriage to Clitandre, until he becomes involved with Henriette. Henriette’s mother Philaminte (junior musical theater major Casey Lane Anderson) rules her household with a strong hand. Philaminte wishes that Henriette would wed the “learned” Trissotin (junior musical theater major Jon Jorgenson) who is only after Henriette for her money.
The Learned Ladies was written in 1672 by the French playwright Molière. The School of Drama’s interpretation of the play was modernized and set in the 1960s — mostly. Although the program stated that the play is set in the ’60s and the costumes support this idea, Henriette is seen texting on a cell phone during a few scenes. The interpretation of setting the play almost 300 years after it was written and including modern technology provides a unique take on an older comedy.
Opening night began with an unexpected twist. Upon entering the Helen Wayne Rauh Studio Theater, patrons were seated and eager for the show to start. Minutes before the show was to begin, though, the fire alarm in the Purnell Center went off and the building was evacuated. After a 45-minute delay, the audience was permitted to re-enter the building and the show was able to begin.
Despite the incident, the cast put on a fantastic performance. The venue for the play was intimate, removing the need for microphones. A few lines of the show were lost under music that was louder than the actors’ voices, but the majority of the show was clear and the actors were easy to understand. The background music was placed well for dramatic effect.
Unique to this production was the lack of a backstage. All costume changes as well as stage entrances and exits were done in one large room. Lights were cast on the stage area from either side of the room, and actors who were not in a specific scene remained behind the lights. Props were thus visible for the entire show, as well as additional actors and crew. Despite the seeming awkwardness of the situation, the auxiliary people and props never seemed to cause a distraction to the audience.
The show included plenty of comedic relief from characters Martine the maid (junior acting major Grace Rao) and Belise the aunt (junior musical theater major Stephanie Hogan). Martine is gum-chomping and stubborn, and mocks the learned ladies every chance she gets. Belise was a crowd favorite thanks to her provocative costume and constant infatuation with the male cast members.
The show was approximately 90 minutes long and included plenty of laughs. Due to the rhymed format of the play, actors were constantly finishing each other’s rhymes, resulting in playful banter between characters. The cast presented an enjoyable performance and had the audience laughing for the duration of the night. The final scene involving Henriette and Armande under a red light provided nice closure to an ambiguous show. The cast certainly deserves a round of applause for a job well done on the production.