L’ecole’ lesson in life, love
Analise Lipari | Tuesday, February 7, 2006
Students, professors and French speakers alike found themselves transported from the thoroughly modern Regis Philbin Box Theatre to 17th-century France with the L’Illustre ThÃ©atre de L’UniversitÃ© de Notre Dame du Lac’s production of MoliÃ¨re’s “L’Ecole des Femmes” last weekend at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center
The production is the fruit of a semester’s worth of labors of Paul McDowell’s “French Theater Production” class, and the series of performances has come to be something of an annual tradition on campus.
This year proved no exception to previous years’ selling records, with all three showings sold out by Saturday afternoon. In spite of any qualms about the work being conducted entirely in French, the box office totals and enthusiasm of the cast proved this to be a nonexistent obstacle to enjoying the play.
“Keep your seat. You will not be disappointed,” the show’s program insisted in a note from McDowell, who tackled both the role of director and actor.
The work tells the tale of Arnolphe (Danny Kettinger), a middle-aged Frenchman who, out of an almost paranoid fear of infidelity, raises a young girl, Agnes (Mary Twetten) in the total seclusion of a convent to later be his future bride.
Unfortunately for Arnolphe, and under the hapless supervision of his servants Georgette (Anne Macrander) and Helene (Delphine Risto), Agnes falls in love with Horace (Michael Barrett), the son of Arnolphe’s closest friend, Oronte (McDowell).
Arnolphe, furious, pretends to aid young Horace while secretly pursuing his own agenda. All the while, Arnolphe’s close friend Chrysalde (Andrea Nolet) looks on with a skeptical eye.
“It is ultimately a fascinating psychological portrait of a man who methodically plans to avoid the scorn that comes with being the husband of an unfaithful wife,” McDowell describes.
“When the time comes for him to execute his plan, he is blindsided by the power of true love. In the process, MoliÃ¨re hits upon any number of themes – society’s perception of women, the role of fate in one’s life, the inadequacies of French legal system and arranged marriages, to name a few.”
Performing in the Philbin Theater proved interesting for this particular production, as its normal setting, France of nearly four centuries prior, calls to mind images of ornate clothing and settings. Keeping the characters in traditional garb but stripping down the set to a single door and a pair of metal chairs was a creative way to focus attention on the cast itself.
The cast members were, in a word, delightful. Kettinger, as undoubtedly the play’s most despicable character, warranted smiles and hysterical laughter as the maddened Arnolphe. His scene with Barrett’s Horace, in which he reacts to discovering the relationship between Agnes and the young man, is wonderfully played – his vivid facial expression and visible shuddering were priceless.
While her scene lasted no more than five minutes, Samantha Alarie-Leca’s appearance as the Notary was like injecting a miniature explosion into the play. She and Macrander’s Georgette easily stole the show with their portrayals of somewhat left-of-center characters. Macrander in particular was notable for her great facial expressivity and impressive physical comedic skill.
Twetten’s Agnes and Barrett’s Horace were your typical young lovers – charming, but with few overly interesting character traits – with a notable exception. Twetten in particular gave Agnes a sweet and good-natured sensibility, performing her small monologue about the rules of a wife’s behavior with impressive emotional range.
Barrett, too, had his moments, in particular when he humorously relayed the story of Agnes, in her ignorance, throwing a rock at him at Arnolphe’s request with a love note attached.
Lastly, the short but memorable appearance of McDowell himself, or “P McD” as he was affectionately named by his cast members, was humorous in its turn for his portrayal of the aging and white-wigged Oronte.