I am really digging Coach House Theatre in Akron, Ohio. Once again, I make the modest trek to the house of Nancy Cates* and Terry Burgler*, Co-Artistic Directors, and I couldn’t be happier. This time around they present “The School for Wives,” which is a theatrical comedy written by the 17th century French playwright Molière, and considered by some critics to be one of his finest achievements. Directed by Burgler, this rompy farce is an over the top chuckle fest with a cast that chews more scenery than a festive group of carpenter ants.
The story involves Arnolphe (Andrew Cruse**), who has raised the young Agnès (Tess Burgler) since the age of 4. Arnolphe supports Agnès living in a nunnery until the age of 17, when he removes her and moves her to one of his abodes, which he keeps under the name of Monsieur de la Souche (Cruse). His intention is to bring up Agnès in such a manner that she will be too ignorant to be unfaithful to him. As a result, he forbids the nuns who are instructing her from teaching her anything that might lead her astray. His good friend Chrysalde (Ryan Christopher Zarecki) warns Arnolphe of his downfall, but Arnolphe takes no heed. After Agnès moves into Arnolphe’s house, Horace (Joe Pine) arrives on the scene ahead of his father, Arnolphe’s friend. Oronte. Horace immediately falls in love with Agnès and she with him. Not realizing that Arnolphe and Monsieur de la Souche are the same person, Horace unwittingly confides all his activities with Agnès to Arnolphe. Arnolphe then schemes to outmaneuver Horace and ensure that Agnès will marry him. To assist Arnolphe in his plans are his two servants, Alain (Benjamin Fortin) and Georgette (Katie Zarecki). And with their help, the plan gets very twisted and bumbled to our pleasure. Even a Notary (Mark Stoffer), called in by Arnolphe, gets caught up in the shenanigans.
A powerful irony waits as Oronte (Timothy Champion), Horace’s father, and Enrique (Alfred Anderson), Chrysalides’ father-in-law, arrive on the scene and announce that Horace is to marry Enrique’s daughter. Da Dum. That was said to music. Thank you.
With Godzilla opening this weekend, it reminds me that Cruse has the Godzilla role when it comes to lines. Immediately, Cruse sets a rapport with the audience that he successfully retains throughout, to delightful effect. Throw John Ritter into the 17th century and out pops Cruse, cranking on all cylinders. Coach House must be thrilled that their new neighbors are the Zarecki’s. Ryan Zarecki is a confident, fun, diction perfect Chrysalde. His delivery and energy is a joy to watch. And his wife, Katie Zarecki, is one-half of the fierce sidekicks of Arnolphe, along with Fortin. Both of them remind me of security detail at Meerkat Manor, and deliciously provide hilarious results. They are bumbling, very funny, and add tremendously to the antics. Burgler brings her Stepford Wife realness to Agnès. Playing stiff with an innocent veneer, she underplays well, so her moments of rebellion are fabulous. Pine delivers another strong performance as a love sick puppy, which creates more energy than an atom-smashing particle accelerator. Stoffer comes in late, but adds comedic timing of his own. And Anderson and Champion, with great characterizations, bring the whole wonderful mess to a festive close.
Random thoughts: loved the way the fourth wall was broken and executed, enjoyed the fact that little note held such a long speech, and I thought the backstage vocal antics and suggested actions were gold.
The Production staff did a great job. Fierce Costume Design by Jonathan Fletcher. It was like every male had a folic bouncy castle on his head. Delightful. Lighting Design by Buddy Taylor. (There seemed to be some buzzing in Act 2, whether that was a lighting fixture or sound). Sound Design by Mark Stoffer. Set Design by Terry Burgler was awesome. Stage Manager Michael Cranston called a clean show.
*Member SDC, the Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers
**Member, Actor’s Equity Association
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Coach House Theatre
732 West Exchange Street
Akron, OH 44302