The School for Wives | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The School for Wives

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THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES, Court Theatre. Actor Kevin Gudahl and 17th-century French playwright Moliere have proved a reliable combination for comic brilliance at Court Theatre, where Gudahl starred in Moliere's The Misanthrope and in Jacques Rampal's sequel, Celimene and the Cardinal. Here he again plays a role created by Moliere himself--Arnolphe, a middle-aged man whose hopes of marrying "a sweet submissive girl" have led him to send his pretty, young ward Agnes (the charming Judy Greer) to a convent school to "keep her mind a perfect void." But unknown to him, the guileless Agnes has fallen for a handsome youth (strapping Kevin Fox), the son of Arnolphe's friend.

Out of this situation--and out of Arnolphe's antediluvian attitudes toward women--Moliere spins a series of delicious comic dialogues packed with double entendres, as Arnolphe schemes to thwart the lovers by pretending to help them. It takes a master actor to give translator Richard Wilbur's rhymed couplets their due as both poetry and comedy; Gudahl meets the challenge with elegance and wit, making us feel for Arnolphe's distress even as we laugh at his foolish notions and recoil from his obsessiveness. He's also at ease in the vigorous slapstick scenes with Arnolphe's daffy servants (the fine Cheryl Graeff and Martin McClendon). Briskly staged by Hungarian director Laszlo Marton, who gives the comedy a quirky darkness that recalls eastern European cartoon shorts, this School for Wives is a delight. --Albert Williams

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