The School for Wives
On a sparse but well used stage, laughter filled the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center when teenage thespians, known as “The Young Company,” presented Moliere’s classic The School for Wives. Under the leadership of accomplished actor and Associate Artistic Director John Maclay, First Stage Theater Academy’s advanced pre-professional training program for high school students inventively added an interesting diversion to the casting.
All the roles (except one) were inverted by gender so a six-foot tall African American male actor enhanced the shape of sweet, naive Agnes. If reversing roles seems absurd, this casting twist imparts Moliere’s words with even more wit. To hear Arnolphe, as a tiny young woman bound in suit and tie, apply the script’s criticism to her own sex, “with regards to their frailty, silliness, and that their souls are bad,” immediately impacts the meaning and upends the play. A light dose of contemporary music, including the song “Staying Alive,” also add to the tongue-in-cheek tone of this French farce that observes the dynamics of femininity, masculinity and marriage playing against age and destiny.
Fine acting by Jeremy Tardy, costumed with white heels and a bow tied bonnet, creates a young Agnes who is charming, capable and clearheaded to great effect, a difficult role when played by the appropriate sex. As the maid Georgette, Joe Mazza captures this personality with affable eccentricity. The young women, especially Kelley Annesley, Madeline Bunke, and Rachel Schmeling, handle the male counterparts with complete ease, while the entire cast gives Moliere’s coupled dialogue an approachable and familiar rhythm.
Many of the 40 Young Company members also work behind the scenes on technical skills because the purpose of this First Stage program is training youth in every phase of theater by working with the top professionals of the regional area, which extends beyond Milwaukee to as far away as Minneapolis and Chicago. Annual auditions determine this select group that additionally prepares for National Shakespeare Competitions across the country where they often garner top honors.
The Young Company’s next performance happens May 8-9 with the world premiere of The Body of Christopher Reed, a weekend opportunity to view the impressive achievements of one of the largest Theater Academies for youth in America.
Complete event listings for this and all things happening on Milwaukee stages can be found at Footlights online.