SALT LAKE CITY — The Would-Be Gentleman, presented at the University of Utah’s Babcock Theatre, was wildly entertaining. While Molière’s comédie-ballet was originally written and performed for King Louis XIV in the year 1670, director Gordon Reinhart’s adaptation spruced up the play to appeal to a modern audience. Most noticeably, he took out the ballet and threw in a lot of contemporary humor, music, and choreography.
The Would-Be Gentleman stars Kory Kyker as Monsieur Jourdain, a member of the middle-class who aspires to become a member of the aristocracy. His attempts at aggrandizement lead him to hire instructors of music (Cameron Tyrrell), dancing (Bryan Glick), fencing (Olivia Vessel), and philosophy (Ruth Ann Jones) – all with comic results. For example, Monsieur Jourdain is delighted when he discovers that all his life he has been speaking perfect prose (as opposed to the only other option: poetry) – “Never cracked a book!” he exclaims with delight at his mastery of day to day speech. Everyone else in the play is perfectly aware of, and mocks rather openly at, Monsieur Jourdain’s ludicrousness: it would be hard to miss his absurdity with the clothes he wears – provided by the Hollywood-esque fashion designer (Jacob Lewis).
Kyker did an amazing job – he played the part perfectly and was hilarious – his acting alone could have carried the entire show. But the rest of the actors were fantastic, as well. Elizabeth Summerhays convincingly plays the fiery and sarcastic Madame Jourdain who is trying to get her daughter Lucile (Olivia Roberts) married, not to an aristocrat as Monsieur Jourdan would have it, but to the middle-class Cleonte (Alejandro Stepenberg). She is helped in this plot by her servant Nicole (Laura Melton) and Cleonte’s lackey Covielle (Andres “Andy” Ricci), who are also in love. I was especially impressed and entertained by Melton and Ricci as the humorously saucy servants (Monsieur Jourdain affectionately refers to Nicole as “Sauce-Box”).
Monsieur Jourdain’s foolishness becomes more evident as we discover that he is lending exorbitant amounts of money to Count Dorante (Jonathan Hamrick), whom he imagines can help him into the aristocracy. Making matters worse, Count Dorante is using that money to woo the object of Monsieur Jourdain’s affections, the Marquise Dorimène (Katie Jean Driscoll). Just like every other plot-line, this one is packed with humor: I couldn’t get enough of Driscoll’s ridiculous affections for a stuffed dog (for whom she occasionally barks rather than speaking on her own).
The only thing I would change – if I had to pick – would be to tone down the Mime-like characters called “Zannis” who provided comedic relief and sound effects and interacted with the audience throughout the play. They were entertaining at times, but over-use made them into more of a distraction, adding little to the plot or the humor that was already carried so well by the main action of the play.
On the technical side of things, I loved the sound effects (care of Thomas R. McCosh as well the Zannis). In a scene where Monsieur Jourdain was unlocking a safe just off stage, the sound effects painted a picture just as well as if the action had been happening on stage.
The costumes (Branda Van Der Wiel, with the help of several assistants) were dazzling – they effectively brought the idea of 17th century France to life. The wigs, robes, and makeup were all amazing. The choreography (Christine Moore, Maureen Laird, and Paul Nilsson) and music throughout the play were constant sources of entertainment. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about these move-busting bourgeoisie at first, but it wasn’t long before I was not only won over but was busting at the seams with delighted laughter.
The play was next to perfect – I laughed aloud at the modern adaptation without being distracted from Molière’s story. Reinhart’s adaptation of the script was entertaining while still true to Molière’s original script. Thirteen dollars is a bargain for this delightfully ebullient production.