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ORIGINALITY HELD BACK IN 'SCHOOL'.

Byline: Katherine Karlin Correspondent

IN MOLIERE'S 17th-century comedy ``The School for Wives,'' the middle-age bourgeois bachelor Arnolphe concocts a cure for his fear of marriage: He'll wed a simpleton. A naive girl, he figures, won't try to outwit him and won't flirt with strangers. And to ensure his success, he has sponsored a young girl's convent education, tailored to provide the very minimum training she will need to serve as his wife.

Complications follow, of course, as the world inevitably reaches his young ward, Agnes. The production at A Noise Within, under Sabin Epstein's direction, certainly squeezes enough laughs out of the play - thanks to Robertson Dean's comic turn as Arnolphe. But in a work that deals with the battle of the sexes, and the ineffectiveness of midlife exhaustion in the face of youthful sexuality, the staging falls flat.

This may be due to its own comic impulse: The production, sitcom style, pauses a beat for a belly laugh at the end of each line. So Agnes (Noel True), reading the manual for wives that preaches complete obedience, harrumphs and scowls as she turns each page but never betrays a sense of dread. And while her suitor, Horace, played by Scott Jay, evokes a few chuckles at Arnolphe's expense, he does not generate the heat of a smitten lover.

While Dean relies a bit much on an embroidered hanky as he dabs his forehead to indicate stress, he gives an all-out, physical, farcical performance. His best moments are his silent reactions as Horace unwittingly plots his betrayal. But in an unnecessary bid for engagement, Dean singles out couples in the audience as he soliloquizes about intellectual wives and their cuckolded husbands. It's a device that distracts us from the character he is creating.

The real standout here is Nadine Parkos' costume design. The men in this production get to wear lush, foppish suits of brocaded silk and hats waving ostrich feathers that nearly reach the rafters. Imagine the Dutch masters as re-created by Dame Edna, and you get an idea of the elaborate silliness of Parkos' vision.

THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES - Two stars

Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; plays in rotating repertory through May 8. Call for specific show dates and times.

Tickets: $30 to $34. Call (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1.

In a nutshell: Robertson Dean does not quite save this predictable production.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 2, 2005
Words:416
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