‘The Learned Ladies’ opens at Central

Left: Nefertiti Boyd as Henriette; Right: Natalie Hendricks as her older sister Aramande

Jimmieka Mills, News Editor

Houston Community College Central drama department is opening their first show of the season, ‘The Learned Ladies’ by Moliere.

‘The Learned Ladies’ opened Oct. 8, the remaining shows are Oct 15 – 17 at 7:30 pm in HCC Central’s Theatre One, 3517 Austin at Holman. Tickets are $7 for students and seniors and $10 for general admission. For information and reservations, call 713-718-6570.

The play, directed by HCC Fine Arts Professor Ed Muth, sets the comedy in Texas in the household of a henpecked gentleman Chrysale. Chrysale is dominated by his wife Philaminte, his sister Belise and eldest daughter Aramande who are ardent devotees of all things literary, poetical, scientific and historical.

In their absurd pursuit of perfection, a servant who drops a tray is scolded for neglecting his study of physics, and a maid gets in trouble when her verbs and nouns do not agree.

The three women fawn endlessly over Trissotin, a vain, pompous, third-rate poet and plagiarist whose every bombastic word evokes their giddy rapture. The conniving phony panders to Philaminte and wins the hand – and hefty dowry – of Henriette, her sensible younger daughter. Rebelling against her fate, Henriette and her beau Clitandre engage in a battle of wits with the con artist that turns the household upside down.

The play, originally written in 1672 is performed, is completely in verse which this production stays true to. Some actors found that the rhyming scheme makes it harder.

“Without verse you may be able to improvise, but, in order for the verse to work your lines must fit with the next persons,” says Nefertiti Boyd, an HCC Psychology major who plays the part of Henriette, “If you’re off, it can throw off another performer.”

‘The Learned Ladies’ is considered one of Moliere’s most popular works. When asked what sets this production apart from those that have been done in the past, HCC education major Stephen Martinez, who plays the role of Martin the Maid said, “Mr.Muth has added his own flavor to it. For one it is set in the late 80s in Paris, Texas!”

Tanya Terry, who has worked with Muth on productions in the past stated, “Mr. Muth is pretty much an expert at being able to update something because he knows that the words aren’t going to be said how they are spoken now. What he does is he takes the context of the play and dresses the play but still keeps true to the original.”

When asked if staying true to the original would lose the audience appeal and reliability, Boyd responded that, “The audience will be able to relate to the play because all of the characters are based on stereotypes. For example, my character is a love torn innocent girl who just needs to get married. My love interest is the hero, the sister is kind of mean and angry — an intellectual, but she still wants to be in love. I know somebody who can fit perfectly into each of these roles and I think the audience is going to take from that.”

Johnathan Marasigan, a computer science major and actor in the role of Clitandre said, “I think that is what draws people to Moliere’s work, he’s able to relate through his work. It’s a testament to how great this play was written that it is still relatable to an audience.”

The production is made up of a cast of seasoned thespians as well as first-time actors. Law and government student Jeremy Brewster plays the role of Trissotin and has worked with Muth before. “I’d done different dramas for quite a while, but I’ve learned that this is a great way to break the threshold and be able to talk a little bit more freely than you would normally do,” says Brewster.

Natalie Hendricks, who plays Armande graduated from the University of Houston with a major in music and business and minor in Italian. She has a background as an

Opera singer. Hendricks says of her experience, “I’d done one play and I just had a small part, in this one I have a lead part so I’m excited about that. I just love English, French and Italian culture and history so in this production that all kind of ties together.”

When asked about the difficulties of producing a play written over three centuries ago, but being performed in 2015 Muth had this to say,

“When you work with the work of Moliere, who was one of the greatest playwright in the history of the world, you are working with the best of the best of the best. What we have to do here at the school is recreate Moliere; rebirth it. Bring it into the 21st in the year 2015 here in Houston, Texas. In order to do that, our production is multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-age group and we use everybody from the community to work in the community college in a community college production.”

One of the last challenges a director is confronted with is casting for the play “that’s the last challenge, to pick the right people to cast in the right roles,” Muth credits his over two decades of experience working in drama at HCC with the ability to cast strong actors in his plays.

“I’ve been lucky to have been working here 20-25 years now so I really know the lay of the land when it comes to the excellent talent that we have here at the college, so it was a real privilege to have found the right people to put in the play.”

Those who have worked closely with Muth credit his teaching to the furthering of their drama skills.

Tanya Terry said of his teaching style, “Mr. Muth is an excellent teacher not just in terms of stage performance and presence, but backstage etiquette.”

Terry, who registers for classes to participate in productions said, “When I was younger, I was actually a drama major in college and I left doing drama to raise my family. The youngest of my children, John, was a student here at HCC Central and caught the drama bug from me. He was in a production here and I notice in the program, there was an audition for an upcoming production of ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’. I was fortunate to have gotten cast in that play. That was about 6 years ago.

Since then I’ve continued to come back for the drama classes because I’ve learned so much to help perfect my craft.”

Terry goes on to say that “because of what I have learned here I’ve learned not only how to perform better, but I have been fortunate enough to do some things outside of HCC in community theater as well.”

In comparison with other classics of which Muth is a great fan, he prefers to deal with the work of Moliere for many reasons. Simply, “it is a bit more accessible.

Moliere’s plays usually have 7 to 12 people in them, compare that to Shakespeare, whose plays usually has 30-40 in them. So it’s quite manageable here at the college.”

Mr. Muth is no stranger to production or to the works of Moliere and notes his first experience as an actor in a Moliere production.

“It was really exciting because the director couldn’t speak English, but she could direct the play! I learned quite a lot about Moliere from an Asian director, directing

‘The Misanthrope’ way back in the 1970s and ever since then I’ve been in love with Moliere.”

Martinez, who plans on one day teaching acting himself, helped Muth with set design.

“A lot of ideas came from him and I did the painting. We started working on the set this summer. So I knew what play we were doing, but I had not idea I’d be cast.”

Although this is not his first production he still touched on fears for opening night and using nerves to further a performance. “For me, if I’m not a little nervous I’m concerned. With me, I’ve found your performance can come off a bit flat. It’s okay to be nervous, but it’s about making it work for you, not against you.”

Hendricks added, “I think good advice on anything you’re trying to do is to no worry so much on your achievement but just make sure you’re doing the best job you can.”

Muth’s production is sure to not only entertain the audience but, they will find some level of relation to many of these characters’ traits. His ability to choose a playwright with these characteristics come from a realization Muth had all those years ago in his first Moliere production.

“I’ve been lucky enough to direct just about every Moliere play there is though my first experience with a Moliere play was in Philadelphia in 1976. I was cast in the Misanthrope. We did it with the French style, but the fun thing was that although it was a French play in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1976 it was directed by a Japanese female director who at the time was the Asian expert on Moliere. That’s when I realized Moliere works in any language and any culture.”

While the original work was set in France and performed in French, this production takes from a script that has been translated from French into English.

“We have a translation from french into English by Richard Wilbur, who is the greatest translator of our century. He is able to take French in rhyme re-translate it into English and still make it rhyme,” says Muth.