Coach House Theatre takes the adage “the show must go on” so seriously, the show The School for Wives barely seemed to miss a beat as Equity actor Andrew Cruse filled in for the ill Terry Burgler last weekend.
Cruse, a consummate classical actor who has worked with Burgler for many years at both Ohio Shakespeare Festival and Coach House, stepped into the lead role of the ludicrous Arnolphe. He had performed the role before but due to the last-minute nature of the substitution, he carried the script in the form of a small brown book onstage.
Cruse looked well-costumed and his acting and movements were completely natural Saturday night as he referred intermittently to the script. This show never came across as a staged reading: This man is an actor of such grace, he made you forget he was holding a script.
The actor embraces the role of the foolishly comical Arnolphe, whose main goal in life is to make sure he’s never cuckolded by a wife. In order to achieve that, he cares for a girl as his ward from age 4 in order to train her to become the perfect wife. Cruse’s face is energetic with the force of Arnolphe’s scheming, and he becomes wild-eyed with consternation when Arnolphe’s perfect plan begins to unravel.
The older man has had Agnes raised in a convent, where he tells the nuns to “keep her growing mind a complete void” so she will be too ignorant to ever be unfaithful to him.
The play, by 17th century playwright Moliere, was written in 1662. This comic masterpiece caused an uproar when it premiered for the brother of King Louis XIV, as Moliere was known to offend the social mores of Parisian society.
Tess Burgler, Terry Burgler’s daughter, is both pretty and doltish as Agnes.
She delivers Agnes’ lines in dim-witted fashion, at the same time skillfully showing us that Agnes has a mind of her own when she dares to defy Arnolphe.
Agnes — tucked away in one of Arnolphe’s homes where he goes by the name of Monsieur de la Souche — appears compliant yet without artifice when she bluntly tells Arnolphe she doesn’t love him. She is drawn to young Horace (Joe Pine) as a moth to a flame, and will stop at nothing to be with him.
Some of the play’s most humorous scenes are between Pine and Cruse, where Horace, who doesn’t realize that Arnolphe is la Souche, repeatedly reveals to Arnolphe his plans to steal Agnes away from la Souche, whom he believes he has never met.
It’s great fun to watch Cruse’s Arnolphe play along, thinking he’s beating Horace at his own game. Tables are turned multiple times in this story about the ultimate duping.
Cruse’s sheer earnestness and vexation as Arnolphe provide audiences with ample laughs. Benjamin Fortin and Katie Zarecki as clueless servants Alain and Georgette induce giggles too.
Making small appearances are Mark Stoffer as a notary; Ryan Zarecki as Chrysalde, the voice of reason; Alfred Anderson as the mysterious Enrique; and Timothy Champion as Oronte, Horace’s father.
Costumes by Jonathan Fletcher and voluminous, curly haired wigs for the men are handsome in this show, as is the set design depicting an attractive home on a city square. Both fine acting and the accessible English translation of Moliere’s rhyming verse, by Richard Wilbur, make this production well worth seeing.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.