Enter stage right into a decadent domicile, with a plush, burgundy velvet pouf, and an ornate white settee. A harpsichord melody softly trills in the background, and soon, black-and-white frocked servants dance onto the scene. From its colorful characters to its social commentary, The Learned Ladies was a wonderfully acted romp that transported the audience to a 17th Century French chateau where trite Romantic poetry and pseudo-intellectualism rule the roost ... for now!
The Learned Ladies is a satire by Molière, adapted for modern times by Freyda Thomas — that tells a story in rhymed couplets — which as Terry Christgau, Director of Upper School Theater Productions, shares, is not easy! He chose the comedy to bring joy and laughter to the community. As shared in the program's Director's Notes, Mr, Christgau wrote: "The worlds that Molière depicts on stage are not kingdoms or countries, but families and households. He holds the mirror up to us as domestic beings and insists that we laugh at ourselves. This year, because almost everything we read in the news about our world is so heavy and scary, I wanted us to laugh a lot, as a cast, as an audience, and as a community."
The Learned Ladies is the first Mainstage Theater production of this school year — and the 43rd that Mr. Christgau has directed and designed in his 21 years at Dwight. During the audition process, so many students did so well that he decided to have not one, but two casts! Both brought the play to life with the energy and talent required for this comedic show — an older cast, who performed each evening show: Ava Goldfarb '21 as Belise, Naomi Gayner '19 as Martine, Kate Schlein '19 as Henriette, Ariana Bevilacqua '21 as Armande, Fernando Villarreal '20 as Lycandre, Aza Evans-Townsend '20 as Arista, Ven Cernjul '20 as Chrysale, Carolina Bueno Silva Arap '22 as Philamenthe, Marcello Massone '19 as Trissotin, Ari Simmons '20 as Vadius, and Alden Wilson '21 as the Judge.
And an all ninth-grade cast, who performed a matinee show for their peers on Friday and for the community on Saturday: Emily Fry as Belise, Leia Immanuel as Martine, Jane Barbero as Henriette, Elexis Perls as Armande, Rory Paltridge as Lycandre, Zofia Sulima Horbatowska as Arista, Bernardo Sequieira as Chrysale, Carolina Bueno Silva Arap as Philamenthe, Ari Schlein as Trissotin, Eric Gayner as Vadius, and Becca Woldenberg as the Judge.
Ninth grader Carolina Bueno Silva Arap stepped up — and into — a leading role in all performances of the show. From veteran thespians to first-time performers, every cast member enthusiastically dove into his/her character. Additionally, the ninth-grade cast attended virtually every rehearsal of the older cast to watch their counterparts and learn. Of the rehearsal process, Mr. Christgau said, "It has been very interesting to see the similarities and differences emerge not only in character and interpretation, but also in the students themselves. Some of the acting choices are so delightfully different due to how individual and wonderful each cast member is!"
During the final weeks before the curtain rose, Gabi Paganini '18, who was a lead in last year's play, volunteered as Assistant Stage Manager.
The play's beautiful set showcased our students' artistic talents — with the help of Dwight's Maintenance crew, students painted and assembled a set that brought Molière's fanciful literary salon to life. Our Performing Arts Center, with Broadway-quality lighting, grants students the opportunity to delve into the world of set and stage design, as well as sound and lighting, where students learn about theater's technical side.
The Learned Ladies is just one of many performing arts opportunities available to Dwight students. Beginning in Middle School, Dwight students take theater classes and perform in plays and musicals, providing them with numerous opportunities to pursue their sparks of genius in acting and singing. They can also explore their interests in what happens behind the curtain and be part of the crew for our Mainstage productions.
Upper School students may choose to take IB Diploma Program Theater classes and participate in Dwight's Master Theater Program, which mirrors college-level instruction with professionals from the New York theater community, but is designed specifically for high school students who are serious about the craft. Students also learn from the feedback of their peers and audience members through "talk back" Q&A sessions following performances, with Friday's ninth-grade matinee being one example.
The Learned Ladies was a wickedly witty show put on by a marvelously talented and hardworking group of students, faculty, and staff. We laughing Lions in the audience thank Mr. Christgau and our wonderful casts and crew for the stellar show!