Sparkling talent earns 'The Learned Ladies' big laughs

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MONMOUTH — Theater at Monmouth’s production of “The Learned Ladies” is a free-flowing feast for the eyes with every character’s movement executed with the precision of a dance.

It’s a comedy. It was written in French in 1672. It’s a satire on academic pretensions. These wouldn’t seem to be a formula for a hit stage production, but a cast that’s packed with sparkling talent makes this show a delightful winner.

The actors in this early offering of the 48th year for Theater at Monmouth include ever-popular 27-year veteran Mark S. Cartier. Also featured in a side-splitting comic role is seven-year favorite James Noel Hoban. There are nine newcomers and three others returning for second and third year appearances.

Under the direction of Sally Wood, this centuries-old classic comedy by Molière comes alive in an English adaptation for a 21st-century audience. However, the plot and dialogue play second fiddle to Wood’s carefully choreographed stage business.

In opulent costumes of the period, the actors create a fluid tableau of grace (and occasional slapstick). No doubt, that kind of intricate movement owes its success to Wood’s background as a theater fight choreographer where inches and split-second timing are essential.

The production fits Cumston Hall’s small stage to perfection. It’s a rollicking mélange of mix-ups as the parents of two young lovers clash over their choices of matrimonial partners for their son and daughter.

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Excellent performances are given by the two young people, Henriette and Clitandre, played by Maggie Thompson and Wardell Julius Clark, both in their first year at TAM.

Henriette’s parents are well-played by Ryan Vincent Anderson and Lucy Lavely, also in their first year at TAM.

Meghan Leathers, first year, plays Martine, a street-smart and sassy maid. Josh Carpenter, third year, plays Ariste, a voice of reason amid the mayhem. Kelsey Burke, second year, appears as Armande, Henriette’s older sister.

Hoban steals the show as Trissotin, an egotistical poet with a lot of sex appeal and little literary talent. Cartier also earns plenty of laughs as Belise, Henriette’s eccentric aunt.

Rounding out the cast are Emery Lawrence, J.P. Guimont, Ben Shaw, Mackenzie Shaw and CJ Stewart.

The set design by Meg Anderson relies principally on three movable window-door pieces that take several configurations. The colorful costumes in “The Learned Ladies” are by Jonna Klaiber. Sound design is by Rew Tippin and lighting design is by Greg Carville. Stage managers are Melissa A. Nathan, Ingrid Pierson and Hayley Wenk.

Upcoming performances will be at 7:30 p.m. July 15 and Aug. 9, 11 and 18; at 1 p.m. on Aug. 3, 16, and 29; and at 7 p.m. with a post-show discussion on Aug. 23.

Other productions performed in repertory throughout the summer season are Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “Othello,” as well as “Red Velvet” and “Three Days of Rain.” A children’s show, “My Father’s Dragon,” is presented on weekends.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” will open Sept. 7. The late-November, early-December holiday show will be “The Santaland Diaries.” Both will be directed by Dawn McAndrews, TAM’s producing artistic director.

Cumston Hall is at 796 Main St., Monmouth.

FMI: 207-933-9999 or theateratmonmouth.org.

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