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Review: Outrageous wigging out among these 'Learned Ladies'

May 31, 2012|By Margaret Gray
  • Henriette (Tannis Hanson) stifles her urge to mock her foolish suitor, the poet Trissotin (Stephen Van Dorn), in the Actors Co-op production of "The Learned Ladies."
Henriette (Tannis Hanson) stifles her urge to mock her foolish suitor,… (John Diugolecki )

How do you do a comedy of manners when the manners are 400 years out of date? True, Molière has aged remarkably little over the centuries. Audiences at the Actors Co-op’s revival of “The Learned Ladies” (1672) may not know many women who have forsworn love for scholarship, but they’ve certainly met pretentious people. You don’t have to be from France or the 17th century to enjoy watching the eponymous ladies outdo one another in their praise of a silly sonnet.

On the other hand, it’s a talky play — in rhyme, no less — filled with clever figures of speech, puns and innuendos, all gracefully translated from the French by the poet Richard Wilbur. What are the actors supposed to do with themselves while speaking, or more troublesomely still, listening to these lines?

At Actors Co-op, they act.

Under Heather Chesley’s indulgent direction, every cast member has brought some elaborate affectation to his or her role. And when they’re not shuffling, bending, babbling, preening, smirking, pouting or gasping, they’re ostentatiously “reacting” to those around them with rolling eyes, mischievous glances, titters and harrumphs. There’s so much sustained, occasionally funny but often tedious shtick that the arrival of the hack poet Trissotin (Stephen Van Dorn, who would shine in a less resolutely scene-stealing cast) — seems almost beside the point.

The action has been mysteriously moved to the 18th century, possibly to allow the cast to sport ridiculously ornate wigs (by Krys Fehervari). They’re funny, but why would these pseudo-intellectuals wear them? Even Tannis Hanson, who gives the pragmatic young heroine Henriette a likable complacency and a subtly leery expression, is hard to see under her poodle hair. Vicki Conrad's costumes and Mark Svastics' set, bathed in a rosy glow by lighting designer Lisa D. Katz, are pretty. But the best moments are the gavottes, choreographed by Julie Hall, that introduce the acts, in which the cast members caper about wearing amusingly self-important expressions.

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“The Learned Ladies.” Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 17. $30. (323) 462-8460, Ext. 300, or www.ActorsCo-op.org.

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