Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 17, 2012

The Learned Ladies

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through March 25, 2012
by Shera Cohen

The added treat to an anticipated fun romp through 16th century French farce at Shakespeare & Company was a talk-back by Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur. “The Learned Ladies” comes to this stage with a stack of fabulous credentials – written by Moliere, directed by Tina Packer, costume designed by Govane Lohbauer. As English translator of the play, Wilbur’s sharp and delightful wit topped off the afternoon at the theatre. Unfortunately, Wilbur’s visit was a one-timer. However, that fact cannot be used as a reason not to see this play.

As is typical of Moliere, “The Learned Ladies” is hilarious, bawdy, and colorful (in costume, set and language) with lickety-split action and characters running in and out of doors. So much humor abounds that one would think there is no time to squeeze in an actual plot. Wrong. To educate or not to educate women, that is the question. Add over-the-top dialogue and super-exaggerated movement and the query of the benefits of being learned or merely wisely cunning become the crux of the plot.

The actors are familiar to Shakespeare & Company’s summer audiences. The winter season’s offer this younger troupe their chance to shine in lead roles. For the most part, “Ladies” is an ensemble piece. Packer assembled a fabulous group of thespians who seem to have as much fun on stage as those watching in the audience. While praising the skills of 11 actors requires too many words than this review allows space for, let’s just say that each has his/her moments to savor onstage to the audience’s delight. Singling out Ryan Winkles might be unfair, but so be it – while he is not the star and has as many lines as others in the cast, he exudes more humor with a hand motion or glance than any of the company’s actors. Let’s add that purposeful scene stealing runs amuck.

“Ladies” is a hilarious poem “sung” in rhymed couples throughout. Packer gets the absolute best from her cast as does the appreciative audience.