Design is easy, stylized comedy is hard. Or something like that. Director Larry Biederman has pulled out the style stops and then some in mounting a post-toast-TV-modern production of Molière's classic comedy of misguided women and the men who educate them, The Learned Ladies. It all looks great—a kind of paean to pop culture enlightenment slapped together with the pageantry of a particularly whacked-out Laugh In episode. And as usual at NOTE, the actors don't hold back. They take Biederman's slapstick cues and over-the-top concept (nods to designers Robert Oriol for sound and lighting design and Ricky Lyle for costumes) and go for broke. If only more members of the nonetheless talented cast members had what it takes to keep it from falling apart.
The ensemble is headed by the delightfully manic Lynn Odell as Philamente, an estimable woman who will stop at nothing to reach the pinnacle of everything. She fills her home with icons of wisdom and spiritual fulfillment such as Gandhi and Oprah, Sigmund Freud and Dr. Phil, and pushes her daughters Armande (Millie Chow, prettily passionate) and Henriette (a strong but miscast Elizabeth Liang) to approach learning with a religious fervor and eschew all that is physical. But of course the search for self-actualization turns into a comic, hands-on romp of self-delusion and self-importance. Philamente brushes aside her meek but clear-headed husband Chrysale (Patrick McGowan, sweetly comic when he needs to be), joins with her histrionic sister-in-law Belise (a balls-out performance by Kirsten Vangsness) in idolizing poetical pretenders like the swaggering Trissotin (David Conner, on the money), and very nearly throws the simple, unaffected Henriette to the pseudo-intellectual wolves instead of into the arms of the dopey guy she loves, Clitandre (Phinneas Kiyomura). An underused Kiff Scholl as the wise uncle who give us the obligatory happy ending also has a handle on the style, height and rhythms needed here to lift us above the gags and mannered sometimes mess.
"The Learned Ladies," presented by and at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Feb. 18-Mar. 26. (Dark Thu. Feb. 24.) $15. (323) 856-8611.