The Frenchman has two faces

Moliere! Moliere! Two one-act plays by Molière

Directed by Susan Scudder
Spotlight on Productions Winter Theatre Festival
Raw Space Theatre A
529 West 42nd St. (279-4200)
Equity showcase (closes Mar. 17)
Review by Jonathan Shandell

The two halves of Molière! Molière! make for a perfect symbiotic pairing. Sganarelle, or the Imaginary Cuckold is classic French comedy: a series of blunders and misunderstandings concerning the marriage of a young maiden, which ultimately untangle themselves and resolve with new knowledge and with reinvigorated romantic union. The Forced Marriage is just the opposite, a sort of anti-comedy in which an older gentleman rethinks his enthusiasm for marriage, moving toward doubt, ignorance, and spiritual isolation. The Spotlight On Winter Theatre Festival has brought these contrasting Molière modes to life with genuine skill, creativity, and panache.

Each and every member of the ensemble cast tripped nimbly across the rhymed couplets of Molière's dialogue. Performances in both halves never ceased to delight with their inspired and seemingly spontaneous comic energy. To recognize just a few of the many exceptional efforts: Carrie Keranen delighted in the two ingénue roles; Ken Scudder was hilariously hapless as Sganarelle; and Michael Hayward-Jones, as the aging groom Jean-Baptiste, carried The Forced Marriage ably on his shoulders. Susan Scudder's direction was crisp and agile-encompassing the physical demands of the first piece, and sensitive to the more complicated emotional experience of the second. Movement and tempo changed with precision and evident feeling for the demands of the material.

If only all of this abundant talent and inspiration were not given such a drastically schizoid design to show them off. The detailed period costumes and props (credited not to an individual, but something called The Gilded Garb Age) and extravagant wigs (designed by Bonny Hughes) were sumptuous and excessively lavish, clearly the recipient of significant attention and resources. In enormous contrast, the sets (no designer listed) and lighting (Thomas Christopher King) put the "raw" in "Raw Space." The four amateurish "trees" that served as the backdrop, perhaps inspired by a Cubist landscape painting, were completely out of tune with the rest of the production. Still, it is the talent on display in front of the scenery, and the talent that emerged from within the costumes, that made Molière! Molière! well worth the trip.

(Also featuring: Jay Colligan, Marc Diraison, Bonny Hughes, Adam Rothenberg, Richard Springle, Nikola Smith.)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 0
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Jonathan Shandell