This is how you kick off a theater season.
Moliere’s “School for Husbands” is one of those blissful pieces of comedy that act as both an entertaining distraction and artistic primer, a reminder of how stories can be told. Irish Classical’s production, under Fortunato Pezzimenti’s direction, casts a wonderful spell on us. Simplicity is key here, and it’s executed, on the whole, with wonderful care.
Richard Wilbur’s adaptation of Moliere’s commedia dell’arte romp is simple and witty, true to the genre’s punctuated, political satire. Here is an enticing dance with Italian form and French texture, of romantic escapades and gender commentary. Pezzimenti’s usual attention to detail is especially noticeable and welcome in this stylish parade.
Opening night took a few minutes to pick up its speed, though it may have been a hesitant audience, as is sometimes the case with season-opener crowds; a summer of informal or experimental fare can require herding back to a formal curtain, so to speak.
The show’s opening fanfare, the typical announcement of a commedia dell’arte piece, with its whimsical circus music, colorful flags and troupe’s overzealous gesticulations – performance is transparent in this form, masks and prop chests revealing the facade – felt flat. The audience’s hesitation, which to be fair, warmed quickly and permanently, might have fueled this suspicion, but there was something else missing. Prerecorded music might have made more proclamation with live performance, or just a better recording. Subtle as it was, this introduction didn’t pop, and subsequently lost some rapt attention.
Once the train got running, though, it was a wild ride.
The formidable Christian Brandjes, ever the ringleader, is Sganarelle, our fool du jour, the husband for which this classroom was christened. Sganarelle is a man of his time, which is to say, a misogynistic creep. (Herein lies Moliere’s masterful touch: commentary that spoke to its own, and future, societies.) That he would be so possessive of his intended young Isabelle (Kay Kerimian) is not the obnoxious joke; the dismantling of his aloof machismo is the show’s only narrative, intricately plotted along the way. This format exists as a social exercise. Fools be damned!
Isabelle finds a different destiny for love, and it doesn’t involve her father figure, but the age-appropriate Valere (Matthew Nerber), a dashing stud who’s a comic foil for Isabelle’s conniving smarts. Gender dialogue lays another stone here. Valere spends most of his time prancing his pretty self through Isabelle’s marked path, all the while Isabelle schemes to dismantle Sganarelle’s patriarchy.
Who’s the boss? That Valere is chaperoned by a guileless servant (the comically divine Kevin Craig) doesn’t help his image as a rightful suitor, though that doesn’t matter much for this lesson. He’s window dressing.
No, it’s Kerimian’s Isabelle who owns every square inch of her stage – and it is hers, make no mistake. Kerimian pile-drives through every word, whether intimately detailing her Julietesque intentions to Valere, or channeling Julia Sugarbaker’s public mockery skills of Sganarelle and his ethos.
Kerimian is not a new face on local stages; she’s had leading and tiny roles on a variety of stages, and has proven herself a chameleon, visible to scale and serving her part. This is a breakout performance, one she again pulls off in proper measure, but without unnecessary fanfare that Isabelle’s lines might entice with.
She’s in fine company, too. Gerry Maher, as Sganarelle’s fellow suitor Ariste, is a delight as a nobler suitor than our fool. Angie Shriner and Jessica Stuber are equally as strong, females with as much chutzpah as their leader. These three women are a righteous tag team of wits. Their verbal punches are barely matched by their men, who, in Moliere’s day and our own, can often be heard only once feet are removed and lessons are memorized. This is a class no one should skip.
What: “School for Husbands”
When: Through Oct. 6
Where: Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St.
Info: 853-4282 or irishclassical.com