Exit 22 Theatre Company Puts a Punk Rock Twist on Molière

Learned Ladies opens on the BlueShore stage, although not everyone is happy about the adaptation

Christine Beyleveldt // Editor-in-Chief
Photo provided by Exit 22 Theatre Company

If a young Paul McCartney and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air had a rap battle, that would be the opening of Learned Ladies’ second act at Capilano University’s BlueShore Financial Theatre. CapU Theatre instructor and Director of Exit 22’s latest production, Nicholas Harrison, put a punk twist on the classic play. Les Femmes Savantes in the original French is a 1672 comedy by Molière that opens tonight and will show until Saturday, Feb. 9.

Due to Harrison’s liberties with the play, the theatre received a letter in which the writer complained that period pieces should only be performed in the period with lavish costumes and sets. Furthermore, the writer claimed that the theatre should be a family-friendly experience, and therefore his spin on the French comedy was promoting perversity.

The court of the Sun King where Molière performed many times throughout his life was known for its titillating scandals. The salaciousness of the period was also reflected in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, adapted from an 18th-century French novel that showed at the BlueShore at CapU in 2016. Harrison was not bothered by the comment, although he encourages people to see the show and draw their own conclusions. In fact, Harrison framed the letter and use it as a prop onstage.

In Learned Ladies, young Henriette is in love with Clitandre and wishes to marry him to her father’s delight. However, this news is met with indignation by her mother, aunt and sister who have other aspirations for her. They are a clique of intellectuals who fawn over the mediocre poet Trissotin, for whom they intend as Henriette’s betrothed. Unfortunately for the ill-fated lovers, these madams have poor Henriette’s father wrapped around their little finger. Pretentiousness meets apprehension, and this cast engages in a vicious battle of wits that gives a critique of the pursuit of scholarship.

One of the challenges actors faced with Learned Ladies was the fact that it is entirely in rhyming verse. But despite the time constraints, actors were off script by the end of their second week of rehearsals, which began in earnest in the New Year. Scarcely a month after they hit the ground, they were running. 

“I feel it’s really important to give actors an opportunity to explore the classics,” said Harrison. Last semester, CapU’s Michelle Deines rewrote Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility for the BlueShore stage, although it was kept in a period setting.

Learned Ladies may be taken from the 17th century, but in Harrison’s version, it’s in a temporal limbo. “So if you could think of taking Baroque and Punk and smashing them together [you would have Learned Ladies],” he said. “It’s very eclectic, it’s fun and it gives [actors] the chance to play period without having the pressure of playing period.”

Instead of adhering religiously to the customs of the 17th century, the cast of characters create their own customs within their own fictitious world. Set and Costuming Designer Brian Ball created the world of Learned Ladies, full of steampunk and grunge looks from the 80s with hot pink and acid washed denim.

Despite taking Molière’s play out of its era, the costumes, some of which were recycled from other performances dressed by CapU’s costuming for stage and screen department, give the actors the freedom of movement necessary to express themselves. The theatre students convey themselves not just through Molière’s words, but through their body language, which adds a good dose of excitement and hilarity.

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