Moliere’s play The Learned Ladies a has a decidedly tongue-in-cheek title with regard to its female characters, who study obsessively but learn very little. A new production by The New Ateh Theater Group and Cake Productions takes that conceit one step further, with an all-female cast.
But first, the plot: Chrysale may be the man of the house, but it is his wife Philaminte who wields power over the household. She, along with bookish daughter Armande and eccentric sister-in-law Belise, obsessively follow various academic pursuits. They even have a live-in poet, Trissotin, who charms the women with his less-than-stellar verses. Philaminte is so charmed by Trissotin that she betroths him to her daughter Henriette. The catch? She is already engaged to her love Clitandre, a match that her father had already approved. Requisite misunderstandings follow before good triumphs, evil flounders, and the learned ladies receive a few life lessons of their own.
All-female productions of classic works are nothing new, but ATG/Cake’s production of Learned Ladies is a shining example of how it should be done. All actresses play their characters faithfully, with no caricatures present in their male—or female—counterparts. (Though to be fair, that mistake is something I usually see when men play female roles, usually for laughs. But that is another post for another day.) After the novelty of false mustaches and pinned-back hair wears off, the production quickly immerses the audience into Moliere’s world of parody, witty insight, and broad comedy. The cast delivers on the laughs, with effortless comedic timing (aided by Paul Urcioli’s precise direction) and fully-acted performances. As a result, these Learned Ladies definitely earn top marks.