What truly makes one person love another?
Moliere in the Park begs this question while addressing gender stereotypes and takes an at times tongue in cheek look at what makes a good wife in The School for Wives, a classic comedy by French playwright Moliere first making its stage debut in 1662. Translated by Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Wilbur with French subtitles, this virtual romantic comedy in five acts has plenty of twists and turns on the road to love and made its live streaming debut on October 24 with the recording available through October 28 on Moliere in the Park’s YouTube channel.
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Set in Brooklyn, NY, Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives uses its creative technical wizardry to meet Covid-19 standards with enhanced, virtual sets by Lina Younes transporting actors from a regal city garden to a carefully-detailed bedroom to an inviting cafe. At one point, it also gives the illusion that the characters are all together. Ari Fulton’s colorful costumes stay faithful to the time period while providing a certain modern edge.
Directed insightfully by Lucie Tiberghien, ‘The School of Wives’ is punctuated by its intriguing and catchy dialogue as well as its flipped gender roles. Older and wealthy Arnolphe (Tonya Pinkins) thought he has his love life figured out until Horace (Kaliswa Brewster) makes him rethink his road to love with sweet and virtuous Agnes (Mirirai Sithole). Each character is well developed, but what truly shines is the fleshed out philosophies and misconceptions of what makes a good woman and a good wife while exemplifying what truly makes a good man and husband.
Tony Pinkins skillfully depicts the well-spoken and arrogant Arnolphe as a myriad of emotions cross Pinkins face in a single scene. From a biting temper to soft chuckling to a Cheshire smile, Pinkins seamlessly illustrates Arnolphe’s constant inner conflict. Ever the focused manipulator, Arnolphe’s vibrant scene-stealing gravitas keeps you engaged no matter how complicated his situation becomes.
Kaliswa Brewster’s thousand-watt smile brings glowing charisma to young Horace, his youth shining through his outspoken candidness and confidence. Pinkins and Brewster are best as they hide their veiled intentions from each other, carefully holding all their cards at bay.
Virtue takes form in Mirirai Sithole as Agnes, a wide-eyed, sympathetic creature who hides a secret. Sithole’s carefully delivered dialogue and angelic, learned mannerisms keeps her fascinating and complicated in a demure pink headpiece and dress.
Peasants Georgette (Tamara Sevunts) and Alain (Corey Tazmania) offer comic relief as frenzied servants of Arnolphe. Anxious, obedient, and scrambling to meet Arnolphe’s demands, they are a fanatical and sympathetic pair whose often bewildered expressions makes one think they may have just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives takes an enlightened look at love while the play unquestionably sets the foundation for today’s romantic comedy tropes. Its rich, inherent message never lacks humor or sincerity when it comes to the unpredictable path to true love.