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Gentilhomme full of humor and Dramashop class

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
By Molire
Presented by MIT Dramashop
Translated from the French
Directed by Richard McElvian
Starring Adam Goodie and Orin Percus G
Kresge Little Theater, Feb. 13-15

By William Chuang

I walked into this play knowing nothing about it, and not sure at all of what to expect. What I received was an evening of excellent humor and acting from a comedy performance which left me in good spirits and got its message across. I gave it three out of my four stars.

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, or A Touch of Class is a rollicking comedy about social status and the lengths some go to gain it. Specifically, it is about M. Jourdain (Adam Goodie), a middle-aged bourgeois whose riches, lack of common sense, and infatuation with nobility are at the play's focus. In the opening act, we listen to Jourdain's music master (Richard Davis '94) and his dancing master (John Feland '94) discussing their patron's interest in the arts, his lack of taste, general cluelessness, and of course, his deep pockets. Jourdain himself is blissfully unaware of this, so long as he acts and dresses as "classy" people do. He also takes fencing lessons and studies philosophy (from Thomas Lawrence '95 and Eugene Schuster '94) in his attempt to become a nobleman.

On the domestic front, Madame Jourdain (Charlene Suwanabhand '93) and her maid Nicole (Kelly Blohowiak '95) both have more common sense, as does Lucile (Sara A. Lederman '95), the Jourdains' daughter. Nicole is a tart young maid who speaks her mind about her father's outrageous tailored new clothes, while Mme. Jourdain is righteously outraged over her husband's expenses, clothes, and foolishness -- but she knows that he lost his sensibility about such matters long ago. Count Dorante (Orin Percus G) is a deliciously slimy and scheming court noble who borrows thousands of francs from Jourdain in return for his friendship and the "status" of accompanying a good friend of such high rank. At the same time, the count acts as an intermediary between Jourdain and the widowed Countess Dorimene (Charlene Suwanabhand '93) while actually courting her himself!

But wait, there's more. Add to this the primary love theme between Lucile and her suitor, Cleonte (Ian Dowell '86), and another between Nicole and Cleonte's manservant, Covielle (Tom Klysa C). Cleonte and Covielle are classic in their private discussion of the infidelity of women and courageous love. But when Lucile and Nicole get their hands on them, it is love once again. M. Jourdain does not approving of Cleonte's suit, though, for Cleonte is not a "titled gentleman." Jourdain has great hopes for his daughter -- perhaps she will one day marry a Marquis. He holds this position against the wishes of his wife and daughter, and even in the face of Cleonte's pleas.

Though the entire cast shines, Jourdain, Covielle, and Dorante each live their parts most admirably. Adam Goodie is incomparably funny as Jourdain. His character is consistently infatuated with visions of becoming a "gentleman," but also unsophisticated and bumbling, as the part requires. Covielle is a classic sidekick, and his interpretations had the audience laughing. Also, Orin Percus' performance as Dorante is unbelievable and laudable -- he is ingratiating, impeccably mannered, sly, scheming, and oversexed. His seduction of the Countess Dorimene is one of the most powerful scenes in the entire show. Davis, as the music master, and Schuster, as the philosopher, also turn in convincing impassioned speeches. Suwanabhand is solid as Madame Jourdain, but her lack of an accent can be slightly disconcerting at times, particularly in a dialogue with Jourdain where she verbally swipes at him. The scene where Jourdain meets with his tailor (Tony Le) is a bit marred by slight hesitations in delivery and an inconsistent limp.

The orchestra, an active off-stage component of many scenes, was nicely integrated into the play. Their Baroque music was reminiscent of the courtly players of the Sun King and accompanied the onstage action well. It was hard to notice the lighting because of the superb acting, but this too was well done. The side windows moved from noon to evening without a hitch. The set was alsospotlessly integrated into the play. A large painting of M. Jourdain was particularly striking. The arrangement of the props left a reasonable amount of room for the dancers, whose Baroque performance was well choreographed; the mock-Turkish dancing and belly dancers were interesting as well.

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is an excellent production, from the translation to the acting to the set. I was quickly absorbed in it, and found myself laughing along with the crowd throughout the play. So if you're in the mood for a good humorous evening, grab a few friends and drop by the Kresge Little Theatre next weekend. You'll come out chuckling and hopefully think a bit the next time you put social status before all else.