Brian Bedford is certainly the world’s premiere performer of Moliere in English–and perhaps his finest interpreter in any language. He not only acts in but directs this pair of one-acts presented by Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The evening showcases his range as a performer: in The School for Husbands he plays a stiff, humorless pedant, all lugubrious virtue and fatuous self-righteousness, while in The Imaginary Cuckold he’s a rowdy bumpkin. One man is actually betrayed and the other merely imagines himself to be, but they’re both clueless. Several Chicago Shakespeare regulars support Bedford’s performances–and under his direction do a terrific job. Kate Fry is particularly good, equally persuasive as the desperate virgin in the first play and as the downtrodden, cold-afflicted servant who nonetheless saves the day in the second. Greg Vinkler and John Reeger (in especially lush voice) also do well, but the evening leaves no doubt that Bedford is the last of a particular classical breed. Richard Wilbur’s definitive translation–imagine rendering rhymed couplets in French into rhymed couplets in English–holds up beautifully, its rhythms so contagious that some audience members leave the theater chatting in doggerel. Though some may find Moliere’s highly artificial style grating, objecting to it is like complaining about Kabuki’s whiteface or atonal vocalization: that’s the form. And The Moliere Comedies is the apotheosis of Moliere farce. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 312-902-1400. Through February 22: Tuesdays, 7:30 PM; Wednesdays, 2 PM; Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $20-$65.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Liz Lauren.