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Strong acting featured in Coach House comedy

5/22/2014 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Andrew Cruse and Tess Burgler star in Coach House Theatre’s “The School for Wives.”
Photo courtesy of Coach House Theatre
WEST AKRON — Unfortunately, wedding rings don’t come with a set of directions. Someone needs to help the new bride and groom as they attempt to find their way through the labyrinth of wedded bliss.

French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière (1622-1673), took it upon himself to help the bride and groom when he wrote “The School for Wives.” Now, Coach House Theatre is staging this comedy through June 1.

The play is misnamed. The script is really a set of instructions for the husband. The script was translated from French by Richard Wilbur, a well-known and well-recognized American poet. If you listen to the dialogue carefully, you’ll realize Wilbur wrote the script in rhymed couplets. Every two lines must rhyme. This style is difficult to write and maintain an appropriate plot pace. The cast should be rewarded for learning these lines and making the humor work with this difficult rhyme scheme.

The plot is in the style of the French comedy. At intermission, someone commented the plot is similar to the style of the situation comedy. If that be true (and it is), Molière wrote some of the first situation comedies.

The story deals with Arnolphe (Andrew Cruse), who arranged to take custody of a young girl and placed her in a convent. She was to be kept free of all education and worldly activities until she was of a marriageable age and he would marry her. As the play opens, he has brought the girl, Anges (Tess Burgler), to his home and is making preparations for the marriage. Agnes discovers Horace (Joe Pine) and falls in love with him.

Horace needs someone to confide in and he chooses Arnolphe — a bad choice that echoes Lucy and Ethel and other sitcom favorites.

Director Terry Burgler kept the action moving at a bright pace. He had his performers break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience, without detriment to the performance. Keep in mind, this play originally was presented to King Louis XIII and his court. I attempt to imagine the king’s reaction to having the performers speak directly to him about marriage, fidelity, infidelity and what to look for in a wife.

Cruse is excellent as the lecherous Arnolphe. He glories in his dishonesty as he attempts to win Agnes’ favor. He displays great frustration at having invested a good deal of time and money to educate a woman to be his wife.

Ryan Zarecki (Chrysalde) and his wife, Katie Zarecki (Georgette), are in the cast and will be welcome additions to the Akron theater scene. He is spectacular as Chrysalde and can speak a line faster than anyone I’ve heard in a long time. Katie, as Georgette, a servant, is excellent in physical comedy and line delivery.

Pine underscored, again, what a good actor he is. He played his slapstick bits with good humor. Pine wore one of the several new wigs the company purchased. He played the wig as if it were another character (or a living prop).

Unfortunately, Tess Burgler doesn’t get enough stage time. She plays her laugh lines and earns good, strong laughs. It’s simply that we don’t see her on the stage enough. The blame for this must go to the playwright.

Jonathan Fletcher and Kelly Johnson designed and built some of the most exotic costumes to cross the Coach House stage in a long, long time. The men’s costumes are perfect for the restoration period.

For ticket information, call 330-434-7741.


David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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