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LA Theater Review

The School for Wives

The School for Wives
French playwright Moliere (1622-1673) relied on materials which were ready at hand—the stock characters and situations of the Italian Commedia dell'arte—and made from them a virtual catalog of human follies. He skewered hypochondriacs in The Imaginary Invalid, social climbers in The Would-be Gentleman, rapacious religious hypocrites (and the gulls who believe them) in Tartuffe, and the money-mad in The Miser.

Monsieur Arnolph (Bo Roberts) has a pathological distrust of women, but he wants to marry, despite an abiding fear of being cuckolded. To assure his marital bliss, he latches onto four-year-old Agnes, makes her his ward, and sets out mold her into a perfect wife. He has her educated in a convent, cloistered and free of all knowledge of the world. Now Agnes (Jessica Madison) has reached marriageable age, so Arnolph moves her to Paris, intending to marry her at once. She's spectacularly naïve and innocent, but far from protecting her, her unworldliness makes her a sitting duck for the first handsome blade to come along. She spots young Horace (Dave Mack) in the street, he sees her, and in a trice, they are smitten with each other. Unfortunately Horace chooses Arnolph for his confidante, unaware of he's the girl's guardian and intended husband. Endless confusions and complications ensue, but love will find a way, both aided and thwarted by Arnolph's dim-witted servants (Cynthia Mance and Kenneth Rudnicki).

This new translation/adaptation by director Frederique Michel and production designer Charles A. Duncombe, is clever, colloquial, and far more actable than most previous versions. Michel gives the piece a coolly elegant and stylized production, emphasizing the play's rueful wisdom as well as its comedy. Duncombe provides a simple but handsome set, while costumer Josephine Poinset effectively blends period and contemporary costumes. Roberts nimbly sketches the shattering of Arnolph's smug self-righteousness and his ever-growing frustration and desperation, while Madison makes Agnes' naivetế a perfect foil for Arnolph's manipulations. Mack brings considerable charm to Horace, but the stylized movement sometimes renders him a bit epicene.

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