Moliere At The Taper
REVIEW by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES--Brian Bedford has devoted much of his life to the classics,
especially those written by Moliere. His experience pays off in THE MOLIERE COMEDIES, now running at the Mark Taper Forum through April 7. Bedford has not only directed the two short plays on the bill--THE
SCHOOL FOR HUSBANDS and THE IMAGINARY CUCKOLD--but has acted in them as well, in both cases playing Sganarelle. Bedford was also responsible for choosing the translator, the poet Richard Wilbur, whom he first met 40 years ago when he was doing Acaste in a production of The Misanthrope at APA, directed by Steven Porter.

"Wilbur is very cheeky," Bedford says in a program note, "and he is brilliant with rhymes. When you see the original French and Dick's translation (into rhyming couplets) you see how utterly faithful it is to the original." Bedford credits Wilbur with turning 17th century classics into contemporary American plays.

The proof is on stage at the Taper. Both of the plays seemed fresh and
sparkling as spring wine, delivered with a lightness of touch and a Mozartean sense of style. The humor came through effortlessly, provoking much hearty laughter.

In both of these one-acts, Moliere satirizes male domination of the female, especially when it comes to wives and daughters. Moliere pokes fun at male condescension toward the opposite sex, their smug notions of superiority. The more men try to throw their weight around, the more buffoonish they become, especially when it comes to sex. In Husbands Sganarelle is the puritannical, aged guardian of a young girl, Isabelle (Anna Belknap), whom he tries to imprison in his household to protect her virginity until such time as he can marry her. In Cuckold Sganarelle (same name, different character) becomes crazed by the notion that his wife (Patricia Conolly) is cuckolding him.

Eventually the women exact comic revenge on their masters, exposing their pretensions and follies for all the world to see. Only the men who are genuinely in love come off well, and even then, as with the youthful Valere (Don Reilly) in Husbands, they too have their vain and fatuous sides.

The production is helped mightily by Ming Cho Lee's set (a plaza overlooked by pretentious houses), Jane Greenwood's flamboyant costumes and Robert Wierzel's dazzling lighting. Kudos to Carol F. Doran too, for her hilarious hair and wig designs.

It's Bedford's night, though, and he makes a personal triumph of it, thanks to his having breathed life into Moliere's 400-year- old text, managing at the same time to deliver performances that each are comic gems.

(Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213- 628-2722 or visit Deaf community, information and tickets: TDD