Review: “The Learned Ladies” is Madcap Molière at Shakespeare & Company [Berkshire on Stage]
If you enjoy a good laugh, then resistance is futile. It may be some 400 years since the French playwright and actor Molière penned Les Femmes Savantes (The Learned Ladies) but time has done nothing to diminish its wit and wisdom. In fact, considering the state of American politics at the moment, nothing could be more timely. Molière aimed his barbs at the excesses of the upper classes and their pretensions. As we guffaw at the characters on stage, are we really laughing at the spoiled class and its contemporary pretensions to care for the poor? Or making fun of some people’s self indulgent fantasies? There’s a lot more than a belly full of laughs beneath the surface of genteel word play that marks this work from 1672. And the updated translation in verse by Richard Wilbur, enables this play to be a people-pleasing comedy even as it speaks truth to privilege.
By a stroke of good fortune Wilbur was in attendance yesterday afternoon at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, where he and director Tina Packer held a talkback following the show. Wilbur joked that “It’s much easier to create the couplets that make up the dialogue if you do it in French.” He first put the script of this French farce in Packer’s hands 35 years ago. It has not changed much since. No need.