Learned Ladies Lures Laughter

The Phillips Academy Theatre 520 production of Moliere’s play, “Learned Ladies,” opened this past weekend, boasting an impeccable set, outstanding cast and wonderfully ridiculous costuming. The play told the story of a young couple, Henriette and Clitandre, played by Sayer Mansfield ’10 and Khalil Flemming ’12, trying to save their relationship during the hectic squabbles and schemes of Henriette’s eccentric family. The play served as Moliere’s criticism on those who overvalue the advantages of education in place of the “baseness” of physical pleasures. “Learned Ladies” came together under the direction of Kevin Heelan, Instructor in Theatre. Heelan said, “I think they (the cast) did a good job. They were inventive and they were excited. A lot depends on the cast and the kids here, when they’re involved in a ply. They’re really committed.” “I have utter faith in him,” said Thor Shannon ’09, of working with Heelan for his second time. “Nerves don’t really get to me anymore.” Shannon played Trissotin, Henriette’s intended suitor. Cast members fully indulged in the eccentricities of their role to bring the play to deliriously funny heights. “The great thing about doing a comedy is that you can stretch your character so much,” said Calista Small ’10, who played Henriette’s mother, Philaminte. The hint of comedic trouble started with the introduction of the over-bearing, delusional aunt, Belise, played by Annabel Bacon ’09, who is convinced that no man on each can resist her. Bacon did an admirable job of bringing the nuisances of this character to a peak: hiding coyly behind her fan, thrusting herself onto her male co-stars and prancing around in a poofy flowery dress and trailing wig as ridiculous as her character. “I was on the floor laughing every time she showed up,” said Gauri Thaker ’10. Just as Bacon made use of her flamboyantly feathered fan, Small entered as Philmante, wielding her staff like Triton’s spear at all who opposed her. “It’s always fun to play mean people,” Small said. “And what made it so fun is that everything about her was so exaggerated.” “The greatest scene was definitely Calista’s entrance,” said Catherine Cannon ’11. Small played one of the main characters of the play as the stubborn and powerful woman of the house. Philaminte is desperate to marry her daughter to the flamboyant Trissotin. Shannon was perfectly cast here as the pretentious poet who has no idea what he’s talking about. “I just got to be as ridiculous and obnoxious as I wanted,” he said. Shannon’s brilliant timing and use of his body in delivering his lines caused the audience to erupt in throes of laughter whenever he appeared onstage. To thwart her mother’s unsavory plan, Henriette called on her loveable, bumbling father, Chrysale, to aid her. The couple depended on him, a celebrator of earthly delights, to help their love blossom by convincing his wife to let them wed. Eli Grober ’09 played this character, wielding a cooking spoon and raw sausage and sporting a fat suit. “The fat suit was very hot,” said Grober ’09. “I was sweating a lot—my make up came off at every show.” “I really loved the repetition of the father never being able to get up because he was so fat,” said Rachel Coleman ’10. Morgan Healey ’09 was outstanding as the sexually charged maid, skilled at cleaning but lacking in education. Healey delivering her lines in a hilariously exaggerated thick French accent. “The accent was really fun to do,” says Healey. “The only thing is you think, ‘O.K., we think this is funny, but will the rest of the school enjoy it?’” And by the audience’s response, Moliere’s humor was not lost. “I was worried it would come off as playing for the big jokes. It’s pretty easy, even with a great director, to kind of stop the humor at a physical level,” noted Grober. “You can go deeper with it though. There’s stuff that’s really sad about it. I think we pulled it off.” “Every night we’d go backstage and talk about how good it felt and how much we enjoyed it,” said Flemming. The Learned Ladies’ set design of a skewed globe reflected the distorted views of the women it supported. The distinctive set also highlighted the haphazard characters as they scrambled about in full ensembles of stockings, wigs and metallic shoes, and dealt with their problems. The cast’s performance was topped off by the delight of seeing peers speaking in verse and sporting wigs. “You’re always nervous when you do a verse play like Moliere because you wonder if they’ll get tangled in the language,” Heelan said. “Are they going to get the nuisances of the language?” “I’d never done lines in rhyme before so it was really difficult to get [them] down,” said Emily Hutcheson-Tipton ’10, who played Henriette’s intellectual sister, Armande. “The costumes were fantastic and wonderfully extreme,” said Coleman. “The shoes in particular caught my eye.” “The high heels were pretty uncomfortable trying on,” Grober admitted. Under the spotlight, any pain was worth bringing beauty to stage. “The advantage of Moliere’s plays,” said Heelan, “is you can do them in so many ways. You could choose do it classically or more farcically. We decided early on that we’d do it in piece costumes. That’s the big decision: do you want to modernize? With the set and the lighting, I think that the costumes really completed the picture. Mr. Murray did a really good job finding costumes and making stuff himself.” The hint of secret trysts and infidelity, amazing character interplay, loud physical gestures and fabulously-crafted personalities converged with the humorous script and cast’s notable acting to deliver a memorable, roll-in-the-aisle performance.