CEDAR CITY There were a few audible groans; one woman shouted "No" and a man followed later with a "Yea!"
All were in response to The Utah Shakespearean Festival's production of "The School for Wives," a comedy by Moliere, considered by many to be the greatest comic dramatist in France.
Can a play written in 1662 still resonate with today's audience to the point that some are forced to yell out?
Translated by Ranjit Bolt, "Wives" has been updated a bit in an effort to keep it relatable, and you'll notice some modern language here and there. When the actors keep true to the rhyming pattern of the era, the modern language fits nicely.
"School for Wives," directed by Robert Cohen, is about Arnolphe, an older gentlemen whose greatest fear is having a wife who is unfaithful, thereby making him a "cuckold." Cuckold, and all of its variations, is a word you'll hear a lot in "School for Wives."
You'll also hear many references to the horns a cuckold wears visible to everyone but the man who wears them.
Arnolphe's desire for a true and chaste wife moves him to send a young girl to a convent to "be raised in ignorance of life" that she'll someday make the perfect wife.
Needless to say, such shelter makes her ignorant and therefore unable to see the harm in falling in love with another man.
The play is quite funny, and though there are moments that might make modern-day women squirm (Arnolphe's rules for being a wife), there is plenty to laugh about for both genders.
As usual, the festival's sets are impressive, this time designed by Jo Winiarski. With this beautiful backdrop for the story, by the time we see Timothy Casto (Arnolphe) and Dennis Elkins (Chrysalde) enter in their gorgeous costumes, designed by Janet L. Swenson, the audience is in the mood for this lyrical piece.
Casto and Elkins set the story up wonderfully, and both are engaging in their opening discussion about wives, what makes a good one and whether or not Arnolphe's plan will work.
The rest of the cast also deliver fine performances: Betsy Mugavero as Agnes, the "dim" wife-to-be; Kevin Kiler as Horace, the exuberant newly-in-love suitor; and a handful of other ensemble actors make the piece work.
I would have liked to see more costumes by Swenson the play takes place over a few days and most actors only wear one outfit.
And I would also recommend seeing this play before you see "Cyrano de Bergerac." After hearing Cyrano's unbeatable expressions of love, Moliere speeches of love and love letters, etc., seem insincere.
Otherwise, it was one of my favorites of the festival, and the audience agreed laughing at may of the lines and situations, and giving a hearty standing ovation at curtain call.Sensitivity rating: Mild language, some sexual references and gestures.