Thoroughly modern Moliere at UWM

By - Dec 9th, 2010 10:00 pm
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The cover from the Theatre Communications Group edition of Richard Wilbur’s translation of Moliere’s “Lovers Quarrels.”

Attention should be paid, even to an undergraduate theater program, if that program produces something of more than educational value.

UW-Milwaukee is producing increasingly impressive theater.

Moliere’s early Lovers Quarrels was the most performed of Moliere’s works in his lifetime. But this domestic comedy — as opposed to Moliere’s biting social satire — is not so well known today. A 2007 translation by poet Richard Wilbur, which the UWM Theater Department is staging right now, may change that. Wilbur, author of the best English productions of other Moliere plays, brings this one to life. The verse supports natural speech. The exchanges between characters throughout the play are familiar today, as echoed in the comedic characters of modern sketch comedy from Abbott and Costello to The Honeymooners to Saturday Night Live.

The plot centers on deception and misunderstanding. Ascagne (Brittany McDonald) is raised as a boy to protect a family inheritance threatened by a condition of a will. Two suitors vie for the household’s other daugher, Lucile (Liz Faraglia). Lucile favors Eraste (Marques Causey). Under cover of darkness, Ascagne woos the other suitor, Valere (Max Hultquist) for herself. Misreading events, Lucile and Eraste quarrel and separate until the inevitable sorting out and reconciliation in the final act. Stock supporting characters provide the broadest humor. Moliere skewers pompous behavior, cowardice, jealousy, fidelity and avarice. The plots are never too thick to get in the way of the fun.

The ensemble is first rate. Valets Gros-Rene (Max Kurkiewicz) and Mascarille (Evan Koepnick) serve up comedic supporting roles (echoing Bud Abbott and Art Carney, respectively). Leads Brittany McDonald, Liz Faraglia and Marques Causey seem genuinely bewildered by events as they attempt to manage matters spun out of control.

Director’s Bill Watson’s clear vision guides the show throughout. The action takes place on an open stage and follows a geometric plan. Actors spar as they pace in circles at the edge of the stage, confront one another and move apart on a horizontal line stage center, or offer a bit of sketch comedy at a rear “proscenium.” Some of the funniest bits are unspoken. Moliere’s comedy is very clever, but hilarity derives from the physical responses of the actors. Watson and crew being page to stage in ideal fashion.

Lover’s Quarrels opened Dec. 8 and runs through Sunday at the UW-Milwaukee Mainstage Theater. Details here.

Categories: Arts & Culture, Theater

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