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The School for Wives
Crowe, who is in his 14th season at STNJ, has been heretofore working his way splendidly through the Bard's canon, has turned his attention now to Molière. Devotees of the farce tradition will undoubtedly find plenty to satisfy their appetite in this strategically over-the-top staging. In this regard, there are a slew of performances that seem unconditionally consigned/resigned to adhere to it.
The action follows the efforts of Arnolphe (Bruce Cromer), a lecherous and over-controlling guardian, in his futile attempts to isolate Agnès (Erin Partin), his ward and hope-to-be-future bride from life and l'amour. The audience at the performance I attended seemed quite delighted by Cromer's stressed-to-the-nines performance. In trying to mold Agnès into a "natural" woman, Arnolphe, in fact, inadvertently succeeds in creating one of the first "liberated" women. As for Agnès, she is played by a very lovely blonde-ringleted Erin Partin, as if beguiling simple-mindedness was in itself an attribute.
Who but Horace an equally dense but of course dashing suitor can effectively woo, win and rescue Agnès? He is played with impetuous élan by Jon Barker. The play, in its time, created a torrent of critical slings and arrows. Molière presumed to ridicule the many "royal" rules regarding how people should behave, speak, think and dress. Scott Whitehurst as the condescending and grand-eloquent Chrysalde makes the most of these social imperatives.
It would be wonderful to note how relevant, witty and mostly fun the play is intended to be. But something in the staging isn't working as it should. Perhaps the mechanics of all the meticulously executed posing and posturing are too conspicuously engineered. This would apply as well to the scenes that resort to a Mack Sennett-styled silent-film approach. Perhaps through repetition future performances will enable the actors to inhabit their affectations instead of just indicating them. This is particularly true for Greg Jackson as Alain and Kristie Dale Sanders as Georgette, the devilishly dim-witted servants of Arnolphe who have their best moment giving what-for to Arnolphe with a fish and a salami.
The edifying charms of Molière and Wilbur for their verse and vernacular are always apparent. And it is easy to rest your eyes on the lovely setting by John Hobbie and also feast upon the beautiful period costumes designed by Emily Pepper. They provided the kind of window dressing that make you want to buy whatever it is they are selling in the store.
Upon entering the theatre you may feel as if you had opened a pop-up coloring book. Framed by cut-out foliage, there is a whimsically envisioned courtyard of a country house. Painted roses climb up trellises and a fountain spouts a bit of water (but only when it's kicked). The fountain gets a laugh but also the house when Arnolphe pulls a lever on the door and presto — spikes pop up all along the length of roof top turning the house into a fortress presumably to keep Horace from gaining access to Agnès. Perhaps this School. . . should stay in session, at least for those who find the curriculum amusing.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
In the Heights
Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide