The Bourgeois Gentleman

Molière's story of Monsieur Jourdain, the foolish bourgeois who aspires to nobility by engaging musicians, dancers, philosophers, swordsmen, and tailors in a futile attempt to attain the status denied him by birth, gets a ragtag production by the usually reliable Cocteau. The piece cries out for skilled farceurs, not the game but largely unseasoned players on hand.

In fairness, Angus Hepburn might make a passable Jourdain in a more traditional staging, and Marlene May has her moments as the stern harridan of a wife at her wit's end with her husband's silly posturing. So, too, Bill Fairbairn and Kristina Klebe as the nobles to whom Jourdain plays up and Danaher Dempsey as a clever valet come across decently, but mainly because their characters are less manic. Overall, the cast garbles the rapid-fire dialogue.

Rod McLucas' translation makes one long for the wit of Richard Wilbur. Raphael Crystal's songs are a far cry from Lully or Richard Strauss. If the songs are meant to "point to the musical genres of our time," as the program states, they've inadvertently concocted an unfortunate throwback to the soft-rock musicals of the '70s. I'll allow these numbers might be slightly more palatable in the throats of stronger singers.

Robert J. Martin's set -- perforce rudimentary -- is merely serviceable. Robin I. Shane's costumes provide the period flavor.

McLucas directs at frenzied breakneck speed, with much tiresome screaming substituting bombast for wit. Towards the end, the mostly glum audience perked up and started to chuckle, for which I credit Molière rather than a cast working far too hard for laughs.

All the forced gaiety was quite dispiriting, and when my companion fled the overheated theatre during intermission, opting for the conclusion of "American Idol" instead, I could only imagine what withering assessment Simon Cowell might impart upon these amateurish shenanigans.