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Theater, for the Joy of It

Shakespeare & Company’s production of Moliere’s “The Learned Ladies” is a nonstop romp through the rarefied, shallow, upper class world of Louis XIV. Gorgeously costumed and playing on a sumptuous set, a talented cast of young actors hurls translator Richard Wilbur’s rhyming couplets at each other in a game of “who gets the last word.” Director Tina Packer first came to “Ladies” 35 years ago, when she directed Wilbur’s translation at Smith College. And it was the first play she produced with her new troupe in 1978 at Fox Hollow in Lenox, MA. Now, of course, she commands an entire theatrical campus, yet her approach to Moliere remains the same: boisterous physical excess, precise diction, nonstop action. After all, this is satirical farce. “Ladies” concerns a family divided into poseurs and realists. A bullying wife, Philamonte (Dana Harrison) and two of her daughters — imagining themselves intellectuals — are in thrall to a fey, prancing poet, Trissotin (Ryan Winkles in a bravura performance.) Her other, sensible daughter, Henriette (Kelly Galvin) is in love with Clitandre (Enrico Spada) and wants to marry him. But Philamonte has chosen Trissotin for Henriette, since she believes matters of the mind trump needs of the body. The head of the family, Chrysale (Daniel Joeck), is spineless and unable to stand up to Philamonte’s scorn and piercing stares. He supports Clitandre and Henriette, but only behind Philamonte’s back. Enter the maid, Martine (Brittany Morgan), who speaks common sense, and Ariste (Stephanie Hedges) Chrysale’s calm sister, who acts as deus ex machina and brings the play to a happy ending, all conflicts resolved. The cast is nearly perfect: Winkles superb, Spada and Galvin very good, Jadow a hilarious scene stealer in heat for every available man, Harrison controlling all about her by ignoring their wishes and insisting on her own. “Ladies” may have little to tell us in a time of sexual equality, but it has a great deal to say about theatrical farce and style. It is wonderfully witty and fast moving. It is a splendid way to ignore the mud of March and look forward to all the fine theater lying ahead in summer. “The Learned Ladies” plays through March 25 at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, MA. Tickets: call 413-637-3353 or go to www.shakespeare.org. ­ — Leon Graham In just as giddy a mood, “Hairspray,” that buoyant musical about 1962, adolescents and slick grooming is having a fine run with Up in One’s production at Rhinebeck’s Center for the Performing Arts. True, this musical is anchored by a pious yearning on the part of one white and chubby Tracy Turnblad to integrate an after-school TV record/dance show for teens (remember “American Bandstand” anyone? Anyone?). The show has “Negro Day” once a month, allowing young black kids to join “The Nicest Kids in Town” in the TV studio. But Tracy (played by Esme Hyman) aims to audition for a place on the show and agitate for change. “Integration is the new frontier” she says in Kennedy Speak. “Not in Baltimore,” Velma, the show’s producer responds. Tracy’s mother Edna (performed by a hilariously and artificially endowed Bill Ross) provides the other dark note in this jolly show. Obese and depressed, Edna has yet to claim her girthright to be happy and productive. But chances are good that she will. That’s because “Hairspray” is unquenchably sunny and candy bright, with clever sets, loads of pink dresses, a fantastically talented Corey Crysler playing Seaweed Stubbs — a loose-limbed charmer who turns segregation to dust — and a multitude of hectic dance numbers accompanied by that hiccupy, glottal Oh! Oh! Oh! so dear to teens of the time. — Marsden Epworth “Hairspray” plays at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck, NY, through March 11. Tickets: 845-876-3080 or go to www.centerforperformingarts.org.

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