“The Learned Ladies” lead the pack in a lively play

In today’s romantic comedies, a woman who is educated, smart and career-focused usually transforms into a love-struck doll by the end, as she is finally thought to “see the light,” using her heart instead of her brain.

In Moliere’s comedy “The Learned Ladies,” importance is placed on education and knowledge, at least to the women, and whether it is satirical, judgmental or true, it still has a much different tone than the comedies of today.

Running at the Hartmann Center through March 6, “The Learned Ladies” sees two lovers, Henriette and Clitandre, wanting to get married. In order to do so, they have to win over Henriette’s mother, Philaminte, who is much more focused on proper grammar than love.

While Henriette’s father Chrysale and uncle are on her side, convincing her mother, aunt Belise and sister Armande is a much more necessary, and difficult, task. Considering herself scholarly, and being the threatening presence that she is, Philaminte has other plans for her youngest daughter Henriette, wishing she marry a local “poet” and “scholar” Trissotin.

The trio of Philaminte, Armande and Belise is overbearing in itself. They are the “learned ladies,” throwing their lives into studies and constantly looking down on those who don’t share the same views as them. They become so enthralled with the idea of Trissotin it is hard for them to see what he really is– a greedy blowhard.

With so many plot points focused on pure pretentiousness, the play wouldn’t work if the cast wasn’t good. The self-importance of many of the characters would become too much and overwhelm the play, turning it from a lighthearted comedy to an unbearable reading.

Luckily, that isn’t the case with Bradley Theatre’s production of “The Learned Ladies.”

The talented cast turns what could be dull or irritating into a lively and entertaining play, filled with romance, physical comedy and humorous speech.  

The best parts in the play weren’t always the actual dialogue. Sometimes, the dialogue consisted of lengthy monologues from various characters. The secret gems of the show rested in the physical comedy – an annoyed sneer from Armande, a shocked and disgusted expression from Chrysale, Clitandre’s longing looks of love to Henriette, elaborate and over-the-top gestures from Belise and Martine the servant.

As pretentious and obnoxious as they were, the real stars of the show were the learned ladies, taking three ridiculous characters and making them enjoyable, mostly in a love-to-hate kind of way. Chloe Dzielak (Armande), Sarah Tilford (Belise) and Janice Gerlach (Philaminte) gave each of their respective characters an expressive, over-the-top quality that transfers well from the stage to the audience, never making the audience strain or wonder how the characters felt about each situation.

While those three were exceptional, the rest of the cast was still excellent. Especially noteworthy was Julian Stroop as Chrysale, smoothly transitioning from loving father to enraged husband to meek husband in one fell swoop, and the sheer ridiculousness of Andrew Kulhman’s (Trissotin) outfit makes “The Learned Ladies” a must see.

From its interesting take on the importance of education and love to the terrific physical comedy, “The Learned Ladies” is a notable Bradley Theater production.