AISLE SAY San Francisco


by David Grimm
Directed by Robert Kelley
Presented by TheatreWorks
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA / (650) 903-6000

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Contemporary playwright David Grimm has translated and adapted Molière's "The Learned Ladies" as "The Learned Ladies of Park Avenue," setting it in a luxurious Manhattan apartment during the Depression. He has retained Molière's satire, focusing on three rich, snobbish women who aspire to lofty intellectualism by patronizing a ninth-rate poet, Upton Gabbitt (Brian Herndon). His coterie is led by the formidable lady of the house, Phyllis Crystal (Phoebe Moyer); her sister-in law, the vampish Aunt Sylvia (Maureen McVerry); and one of her young adult daughters, Ramona (Julia Motyka).

In the meantime, Phyllis' other daughter, Betty (Kristin Stokes), has just become engaged to the likable but not rich Dicky Mayhew (Darren Bridgett). Betty's father, Henry (Warren David Keith), approves of their pending marriage, but he has to convince Phyllis to do likewise. Phyllis, however, wants Betty to marry Upton. Henry is assisted in his efforts by his bachelor brother, Uncle Rupert (Jackson Davis). Also figuring into the action are another author, T.S. Bains (Colin Thomson), and the household's Hungarian cook, Magda (Nancy Sauder).

All of the action takes place within a handsome Art Deco set by Joe Ragey with lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt. Fumiko Bielefeldt's chic costumes pick up colors from the set. The sound design, featuring popular songs of the period, is by Cliff Caruthers.

Although the play is a satire on intellectual pretension as well as social snobbery during the Depression and although director Robert Kelley's deft touch is apparent, the play doesn't work well. Much of the problem rests with its use of rhymed couplets. True, Shakespeare used rhymed couplets, and so did Molière. Some of the rhymes here are quite clever, but others result in cliches. The overall effect is strained and distracting. I sometimes caught myself coming up with the appropriate rhyme instead of hearing the meaning. The couplets also seem to make the actors -- a skilled group indeed -- work too hard on the words, losing spontaneity and much of the enjoyment.

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