Saturday, February 26, 2011

- Theater Review - The Learned Ladies

For the latest offering of the 2011 season, Bradley University Theater presents  "The Learned Ladies".

Pulling off a Moliere comedy can be a tall order for a young troupe of actors.  It is no easy feat to perform a 339 year old French farce, translated into English and delivered in rapid-fire rhyming verse.

And yet true to our expectations, the Bradley U students manage to make it work.

At the center of the story are two young lovers, Henriette and Clitandre.  Their plans to marry are soon thwarted by Henriette's sister, Armande, her mother Philaminte, and her Aunt Belise.

These three women are the "learned ladies", who value art and culture above all else.  They worship the hackneyed works of their protege, Trissotin. 
Trissotin is a poet of dubious talent and an opportunist with his eyes on the family fortune when the Learned Ladies decide that he should be the chosen mate for Henriette.

Henriette's father, Chrysale, and her Uncle Ariste both wish for Henriette to follow her heart into a union with Clitandre.  Chrysale, however, is a weak and hen-pecked man who allows his wife to run the family.

What follows is a series of outrageous and funny events that culminate in a surprise twist where all is resolved and made clear.

As Trissotin, BU veteran Andrew Kuhlman is in the type of role that he does well and that he obviously loves - one that is loud, over the top, and larger than life.

The Learned Ladies are played with zeal by Sarah Tilford, Janice Gerlach, and Chloe Dzielak.  Their facial expressions and effusiveness are perfectly suited for farce. 
Ms. Tilford's Belise is a particular delight.  The older maiden aunt remains convinced in her mind that nearly every young man must be secretly in love with her.

Julian Stroup gets a lot of mileage out of his role as Chrysale, the meek husband who finally finds his way to head of his household.  Ross Cochran also is good as his brother Ariste, who becomes the hero of the tale.

Laura Schermer and Brian Zinda are convincingly sweet as the young lovers.

The Bradley Theater group always excels at set construction and this is no exception.  The Baroque French drawing room is impressive and functional to the execution of the play.  Well done.

As I said, this is a difficult play that is well performed here by the Bradley troupe. 
If one overlooks the underlying themes of anti-intellectualism and female subservience, the play can still be funny and enjoyable after nearly three and a half centuries.

It continues Saturday, February 26th through Sunday, March 6th at the Hartmann Center for the Performing Arts on the Bradley University campus.


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