Moliere On Love and Marriage - Courtship 1600s-style
Black lights, comical masks, loud voices, and hearty laughter: nestled in Buffalo's downtown theater district, the Irish Classical Theater has supplied theater-goers with a delightful, humorous treat with its production of Moliere's "School for Wives."
Derek Mahon's translation of this 17th century French play is set entirely in the town square of Avignon, France. The scenery of the square is filled with benches and flowers, enough to send any present-day theater patron reeling back in time.
"School for Wives" deals with Moliere's stringent attitude toward a women's place in society during the 1600s. The French playwright was said to have modeled the relationship two main characters, Arnolphe and Agnes after his own marriage.
At first, the play's opening dialogue between Arnolphe (Tim Newell), and his comrade, Chrsyalde (Tom Loughlin) seems quite stilted. They argue over Arnolphe's point of view, which is that a wife only needs to know how to knit, sew and clean.
Though his oppressive words, and despite his low self-esteem, Arnolphe tries to convince Chrysalde that women who are educated will lie and cheat. Chrysalde is an excellent foil to Arnolphe, as he praises the mind and charisma of intelligent women. Arnolphe and company prove triumphant when the darling of the production, Agnes, played by UB undergraduate theater major Elba Sette-Camara, arrives like a beacon of light.
Appearing first from a door in the back of the theater, Sette-Camara slides smoothly into her role as the object of Arnolphe's delicate, naive obsession. To Arnolphe, Agnes is a perfect woman, and so the two seem to interact like a guardian and protectorate. Subservient, demure and quiet in her flowing, stark-white dress, Agnes appears only after Arnolphe taps on an invisible door.
The play's twist occurs after Arnolphe is approached by Horace (or, as Newll's character prefers to pronounce it, "Hore-Ace"), in the town square. Horace is a foppish young gentleman with a mustache that is blatantly and intentionally painted on his face, as well as a goatee.
Horace, played by Michael Amico, also adores Arnolphe's love from Avignon (or "Avignonnnnn," as pronounced courtesy of Newell's comical interpretation). Horace walks lankily around the stage while speaking of a mysterious woman, but does not reveal her name. Ironically, he is speaking about Agnes.
Arnolphe occasionally makes eye contact with the audience and winks or speaks directly to them, explaining through his body language that he is very aware Agnes is the woman about whom Horace speaks. At times, Newell even jumps into the audience itself, putting himself in direct contact with spectators.
Willing to do anything to stop Horace and Agnes from uniting, Arnolphe pays two obnoxious, simpering clowns to keep Horace at bay. John Warren and UB Alumna Kate Loconti portray these two jokers in silly masks and unique costumes. They achieve the goal of their characters, their antics becoming slightly irritating.
Agnes finally outsmarts Arnolphe with her unexpected wit. Her love for Horace, combined with her contempt for Arnolphe, leaves the audience laughing when Arnolphe preaches his "true love" for her at her feet.
The play is dotted with profanities, and the players embellish frequently, whether with interpretive pronunciation or the execution of the hilarious twist at the end. The entire production is pleasantly dramatic and entertaining.
The play is currently running as part of the ICT's tenth anniversary season, and runs Thursday through Sunday from now until October 21.