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Paulanne Simmons

"School for Wives" Gets and A

Rachel Botchan and Bradford Cover in School for Wives. Photo by Gregory Costanzo

"School for Wives"
Directed by Shepard Sobel
The Pearl Theatre Company
80 St. Marks Place at 1st Ave.
Opened Nov. 19, 2006
Performed in rotating repertory with Arms and the Man"
$50-$20 (212) 598-9802 or www.pearltheatre.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 14, 2006

Moliere's "School for Wives" was written only a few months after the playwright married Armande Bejart, a young actress who was nearly twenty-five years his junior. By all accounts, the marriage was not a happy one. Many believe it was the hard-earned lessons Moliere learned living with Bejart which formed the basis of the 1662 comedy.

The play, about a middle-aged man-about-town who decides to marry his innocent ward, whom he will train to be submissive and faithful, became a cause celebre. Moralists denounced the play as sacrilegious and depraved while the more open-minded praised the clever satire.

Today, "School for Wives," hardly seems dangerous or naughty, but it is still uproariously funny. The Pearl Theatre Company's production, directed by Shepard Sobel, goes at the comedy full throttle. With no scenery other than a real and painted curtains (scenic design is by Harry Feiner) and sumptuous period costumes (Frank Champa did the costumes), this "School for Wives" still conveys much of the elegance one imagines the play had when it was first staged at the Palais-Royal.

Dan Daily heads the cast as Arnolphe, the would-be husband. He is big, vain, blustery and perfectly inappropriate for the tiny Agnes (Hana Moon), the orphan he has raised in a convent so she will be totally innocent at their marriage.

Moon listens quietly while Daily recites nonsense like "Your sex was created for dependence. All power lies behind a bearded face." But one never mistakes her inner strength.

Agnes's secret weapon is her young suitor, Horace (the excellent Noel Velez), the son of one of Arnolphe's friends. Of course Horace is quick to confide his love to Arnolphe and Arnolphe is eager to help out. Until he finds out that his own Agnes is the object of Horace's affections. With the help of his servants, Arnolphe now tries to thwart Horace's plans.

Bradford Cover and Rachel Botchan are wonderful as the wise and wily servants, Alain and Georgette. Their slapstick keeps up the pace and the laughs throughout the play.

Dominic Cuskern gives a particularly well-balanced performance as Chrysalde, the voice of reason never missing from a Moliere comedy. He drifts gracefully in and out of the action, wagging his finger and smiling. But, of course, no one listens to him.

One can always depend on Moliere for tried-and-true comedy. And it's nice to know The Pearl can keep making the classics look fresh.

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