Moliere's 'Learned Ladies' Meets the 20th Century

THE LEARNED LADIES Comedy by Moliere. Translated and adapted by Freyda Thomas with additional adaptive material by Richard Seyd and Miss Thomas. Directed by Mr. Seyd. At the CSC Theatre through April 7.

THE CSC Repertory Theatre is having itself a giddy Franco-American gambol with "The Learned Ladies." Flavoring her rhymed couplets with contemporary anachronisms, adapter Freyda Thomas has devised a pop version of Moli 143>re that amalgamates styles and periods entertainingly. As a result, Miss Thomas and director-coadapter Richard Seyd serve the ends of a 17th-century French classic and the latter-day spectator. The outcome is general satisfaction and general merriment.

Wearing Beaver Bauer's classy costumes, the cast unfolds Moli 143>re's complex high-comedy plot with dash and a good deal of elegance. The CSC Theatre version remains faithful to Moli 143>re's mockery of the "Femmes Savantes" who allow their infatuation with higher learning to get the better of their good sense.

Central to the bourgeois comedy are the matronly Philamente (fancifully played by Jean Stapleton) and her two daughters. When elder daughter Armande (Alice Haining) rejects her suitor Clitandre (Peter Francis James) in favor of intellectual pursuits, he finds consolation in fetching younger sister Henriette (Julia Gibson) - much to Armande's annoyance.

Philamente decides that Henriette should wed Trissotin (Nestor Serano), a posturing poetaster. When Philamente's sensible brother-in-law makes it seem that the family is in bad financial straits, Trissotin promptly withdraws from the proposed match, leaving the field to Clitandre.

"In this production of 'The Learned Ladies,' we have developed an environment and look that is not specifically rooted in the 17th century but instead echoes both that world and our own to create an imaginary world of recognizable elements," writes Mr. Seyd. "In this world, conservatism and change, male and female, excess and moderation can be playfully explored, revealing that the difficult and hilarious choices made in the play are closer to our own experience than we might otherwise have thought."

The explorative overlay is most apparent in Miss Thomas's liberated text. The rhymed dialogue abounds in phrases like "make our vows legit ... he's such a creep ... I'm condemned and why? I'm just an ordinary guy." Shakespeare is also quoted randomly in this eclectic potpourri. At heart, however, this "Learned Ladies" is not antifeminist but rather anti-preciosity and anti-highfalutin pretensions. Moli 143>re saves his sharpest ridicule for Trissotin and Vadius, his equally ridiculous companion in pomposity.

The fun and games of "The Learned Ladies" proceed apace amid designer Richard Hoover's handsome milieu of drapery, movable furniture, and multilevel playing spaces - splendidly lit by Mary Louise Geiger. Director Seyd has given fairly free rein to his actors' comedianship while maintaining a general style that keeps their comic impersonations in balance.

IN addition to Miss Stapleton's Philamente, the performances on which the production thrives include those of Merwin Goldsmith as the husbandly worm who turns; Frank Raiter as his no-nonsense brother; Nestor Serrano and Peter Bartlett as the posturing poetasters; Georgine Hall as the spinster; and Amy Brenneman as Martine, the maid. Finally, a couplet or two in praise of Gina Leishman's score for harpsicord plus the occasional saxophone and double bass.

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