School for Wives
Molière’s farce about a dandy determined not to be cuckolded by his presumptive bride-to-be (even if she doesn’t know it yet) is given a very traditional, but nuanced, interpretation under Robert Cohen’s direction.
Walking into the Randall L. Jones Theatre, audience members are greeted by Jo Winiarski’s elegant set, the exterior of a French provincial home, framed by the proscenium curved in the shape of the tip of the center leaf of a fleur de lys. Two pairs of chandeliers advance from upstage to down, with a third pair breaking past the proscenium and hanging above the audience. The set and chandeliers do an excellent job of both involving the audience in the space and communicating to them the period and tone of the piece; the set design also gives them cues as to what type of audience they would be expected to be were they seeing this in Molière’s time—which is to say, French dandies. When the actors almost immediately address the audience, then, it is a delight, as the crowd knows its part in the joke.
The acting by all cast members is superb, with standout work by Kevin Kiler as Horace, the young lover, Rick Ford as Alain, a servant, and Lillian Castillo as Georgette, the cook. Ford and Castillo in particular make the most of their time as idiot servants. Betsy Mugavero, as bride-to-be Agnès, is sharp and quick in her innocence, bringing sense and gravity to her arguments with the manipulative Arnolphe. Timothy Casto is funny and pained as the manipulative and anxious dandy Arnolphe, choosing to imbue the wretch with a sense of humanity even in his manipulations. His fear of cuckoldry, but also misery over his loneliness and yearning for love, all combine to make his actions funnier.
The bottom line: ****
Fiddler on the Roof
A classic of American musical theater, this is the one show at the festival that feels as if it’s laboring. A tale of Jewish life in pre-Revolutionary Russia, Fiddler pits tradition against the inexorable tide of history, with Tevye (Matthew Henerson), a poor Jewish dairyman with five daughters, caught in the undertow.
Before this role Henerson would not have been considered a musical-theater actor. Dedicated work with a vocal coach has given him the chops needed for the score, but not much more to convey the struggles, joys and sorrows of the character. To be fair, this is not his struggle alone, as much of the cast also pulls double duty in other productions, and rep casting precludes getting only musical-theater standouts (there’s not much call for singing and dancing in Othello ...).
Still, I wish there was more of an awareness of Tevye’s conflict with God. As each daughter gets pulled from him to husbands who are each less and less invested in “Tradition,” Tevye’s anguish and arguments with God need to evoke the struggles of Job, a good man unfairly tested by God, rather than standing as one-liners. On the other hand, Henerson aptly conveys the anguish in Tevye’s struggle to accept his third daughter Chava’s (Katie Whetsell) choice of a non-Jewish husband.
The bottom line: ***
Cyrano de Bergerac
Cyrano is one of the greatest pieces of dramatic literature ever penned. Say the words with conviction, honesty and clarity, and then get out of their way—the rest is magic. And this production is as well. David Ivers has directed a triumphant show that is as majestic in its grand gestures of poetry, bravery, love and panache as it is in its quiet reflections and subtle responses.
Festival favorite Brian Vaughn plays Cyrano with all the sweep and swagger this role calls for, but also carries the character’s extreme self-loathing and insecurity. Vaughn’s movement is measured, a counter to the torrent of poetry that flows from Cyrano and one that suits the hopelessness of the character. His substitute wooing of Roxane (Melinda Pfundstein) on behalf of Christian (Drew Shirley) under a moonlit balcony is a highlight of the festival.
More delightful is the fact that, despite the title, this is not a one-man show. The rest of the cast is sharp as well. Actors’ reactions to Cyrano’s flights of brilliance are perfectly in character, yet deliriously honest. The Gascony cadets (Cyrano’s squadron) are by turns funny, pathetic and tragic. The staging of their slaughter at Arras is wrenching.
In the end, though, the last heartbreak of the play belongs to Cyrano. All the better for you.
The bottom line: *****
Performances continue through August 30. For tickets and info, call 800-752-9849 or visit bard.org