Los Angeles Times

May 20, 2005

 

THEATER BEAT

 

Moliere adapted a la Noel Coward

 

What a find: Here we have not only two sharp, sassy Moliere adaptations on one program but a production that shows off their wit and warmth to full advantage.

 

Adapter-director Tony Tanner has plucked "Les Femmes Savantes" and "Le Misanthrope" and lightly reset them in a Noel Coward frame. His new titles give an idea where he's going—"The Wise-Ass Women" and "The Man-Hater," respectively—except that the results aren't mere winking frippery. This is Moliere with a drive and a lilt, a feint and a thrust.

 

It doesn't hurt that his mostly exquisite cast is up to it. From the first moment, as "Wise-Ass" sisters Armande (Susan Hanfield) and Henriette (Elyse Ashton) burst forth to tussle over sex and suitors, we sigh with relief that we, and Moliere, are in good hands. In both plays the actors find the right swaggering but fleet-footed style for Tanner's imperfect but delightful verse.

 

Space forbids extensive citation of Tanner's well-turned zingers, seasoned with contemporary details that fit as nicely as Paula Higgins' matter-of-factly resplendent and character-revealing costumes.

 

A typical punch line: In "The Man-Hater," loyal Philinte (Scott Ryden) gently upbraids cranky Alceste (Stuart Howard) over his soft spot for an incorrigible tease (Victoria Hoffman) with the unanswerable put-down, "There's a part of you still stuck in the dorm."

 

My favorite, though, would have to be the flustered retort of a husband (Robert Harlan Greene) to his dilettante wife (Sara Shearer): "Parse my arse!"

 

Staged with surety in the round in an unprepossessing auditorium, this "Pair by Moliere" merits both the sitting and the parsing.

 

Rob Kendt

 

"A Pair by Moliere: The Wise-Ass Women and The Man-Hater," Fiesta Hall, 1200 N. Vista St., West Hollywood. 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. May 29. Ends May 29. $15. (323) 461-5570. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.