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‘The Learned Ladies’ takes the Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theatre by laughter

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Learned Ladies

It seems the theater always saves the comedic and lighthearted shows for the springtime. After a season that included dramas like “Romeo and Jules,” “In the Heart of America,” and “Rutherford and Sons,” the UW School of Drama’s rendition of “The Learned Ladies” is no exception to this rule.

The show, which kicked off May 22 to a nearly at-capacity theater, is a modern translation of the 1672 comedy, Molière’s “les Femmes savants.” The production is spoken almost entirely in verse.   

Set in the household of a 1600s French bourgeois family, the story follows the forbidden yet seemingly inevitable love of Henriette (Jessica Thorne), the youngest daughter of the family, and Clitandre (Jon Díaz), her underachieving, well-intentioned consort. Their love, while approved by Henriette’s father, Chrysale (Brandon Pascal),is forbidden and scorned by her mother and unquestioned head of the family, Philaminte (Alyssa Franks).

Philaminte, who is comically enthralled with philosophy and education, wants Henriette to marry the vain and mildly talented poet Trissotin (Semaj Miller). The story explores a struggle for power, love, and a happy medium between scholarship and companionship as the family and a few others raucously battle their way to an agreement.

Without prior information, the show may come off as a silly, overdone slapstick that would only appeal to the most immature of audiences. But knowing that the play is from the 1600s makes it easy to see how these antics were funny to the masses.

The show also has some timeless satire, however, some of which will only reach the most seasoned of audience members. The show pays homage to the now-preposterous origins of clumsy comedy while still keeping the crowd’s attention with the occasional derailment of proper English with a well-placed “dammit!” There’s comedy for any age, and never an inappropriate moment to laugh.   

The whole cast gets in on the humor in some capacity, too. Arguably the most uproariously hilarious scene stars a cameo from an unassuming servant (Asialani Holman) who garners laughter from the audience during a long slapstick bit, delivering almost no lines in the process.

Sporting a pearl-wrapped beehive hairstyle, Belise (Hailey Henderson), the protagonist’s aunt, is another crowd favorite. As the desperate, audacious imbecile, Belise attempts to seduce the uninterested bachelors, at often the most inopportune times.

Through thick wigs and constricting garments, on a night where many audience members repurposed their playbill as a fan, the actors managed to keep the energy up. Engaging the crowd from all angles and taking full advantage of all four stage entrances, the 11-person cast utilized the layout of the Penthouse’s circular theater, even going as far as to sit down with the crowd during a scene.

All of this comedy, however, did not distract from the superb acting. For example, though the family’s primary servant, Martine (Erica Matthews), had fewer lines than most of the cast, the actress delivered two of the most passionate and truthful monologues of the night. Martine was often the voice of reason, and likely the avenue Molière used to portray his own personal messages to the audience.

From ludicrous slapstick bits to multiple (and maybe more that went unnoticed) sexual innuendos, this is a timeless play that will get a laugh from any sense of humor, leaving the audience in good spirits as they exit the show.

The show runs until June 2, Wednesdays through Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online and are just $10 for students.

Reach contributing writer Jorn Peterson Twitter: @PetersonJorn

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