Forget the whole thing about a French playwright and a script written in 1670, the whole business of powdered wigs and bodices and knee-length britches and plumed hats.
Seriously, forget all of these things ... because if the 21st century mind concentrates on these things, the modern brain will unearth words such as dull, boring, yawn, hard to follow.
Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance’s production of “The Would-Be Gentleman” was written by French playwright Moliere in 1670 with plenty of the aforementioned costumes, but it has none of the latter attributes.
“The Would-Be Gentleman” is sharp and interesting. Audiences are too busy laughing to ever catch a breath to yawn as they follow this fun and funny storyline.
The plot essentially follows the pompous Monsieur Jourdain, a weathy tradesman who places more value on being perceived as a “person of quality,” a gentleman with the potential to become nobility, than he does good sense or hanging onto his dollars and cents.
VSU student actor Will Stanley is a marvelous whirlwind as the buffoon Jourdain. Unrecognizable in his make-up, wig, and costumes, Stanley creates a simultaneously pompous yet strangely loveable Jourdain. From his movements, his facial expressions, his versatile voice, his willingness to allow costume designer Esther Iverson to dress him in the most outlandish wardrobe, and his almost constant presence on stage, Jourdain shines in this non-stop comedic role. Jourdain may wish to be nobility, but Will Stanley rules here.
A tremendously talented cast joins Stanley on the Sawyer Theatre stage. They are all performers of quality. So much so, that it’s difficult to know where to shine a spotlight of praise because there are no false notes here. The show moves from one great set-up to another, non-stop.
But the real show-stopper, the one that had the audience roaring with laughter and applause, was the Turkish ceremony where a pair of suitors disguised as the son and emissary of the sultan induct Jourdain into the Turkish elite. It is a comic and musical feast.
The production is as lush as the laughs. Ruth Brandvik’s set and lighting are elegant in their simplicity and wise in their function of framing the frenetic energy of the show’s lightning pace and the brilliance of Iverson’s stunning costumes. Technical director Michael Driggers keeps these elements moving seamlessly. Dr. Christopher Bailey provides original music that adds detail, depth and more laughs to this show.
And director/choreographer Jacque Wheeler keeps “The Would-Be Gentleman’s” action flowing smoothly, each set-up — from the excellent scene of Dennis May’s remarkable Philosophy Teacher rearranging ink pots to coordinate the constantly rearranged words of the same sentence to the huge production numbers of the concluding Turkish scenes — is presented with grace, style and panache.
There is an old saying in theatre: Death is easy; comedy is hard. “The Would-Be Gentleman” pulls off a remarkable feat requiring an extraordinary effort though the audience will never know just how difficult it may be. The audience has too much fun and so is the cast.
One note of regret, which I likely share with more than a few people in Thursday night’s audience. “The Would-Be Gentleman” deserves a standing ovation as probably the region’s funniest and most fun production since VSU’s “Sweet Charity” two years ago. The audience and I did not grant this well-deserved ovation Thursday night. We should have been on our feet. Shame on us, but bravo to VSU Theatre & Dance.
This review is based on Thursday’s opening night performance.
VSU Theatre & Dance’s “The Would-Be Gentleman” continues 7:30 p.m. today; Saturday, Nov. 10; 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11; 7:30 p.m., Nov. 12-14, Sawyer Theatre, Valdosta State University Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood. Reservations, more information: Call (229) 333-5973; or visit www.valdosta.edu/comarts