STILL CRAZY after all these years: In a modest and altogether charming production at Center Stage, Moliere's "The School for Wives," a 17th-century frolic, is well worth the short jaunt to Baltimore.
The evening, a comic essay on the folly of attempting to control another, is directed with a fresh, frisky hand by Irene Lewis, working from a delicious verse translation by poet Richard Wilbur, who outfits the French farce with a lilting meter and interior rhymes, and finds sly counterparts for Moliere's tart witticisms.
Boasting to his friend Chrysalde, bachelor boob Arnolphe smugly prides himself on knowing "all the tricks and ruses that wives employ to cheat their husbands by." He will never be cuckolded -- he has found a guileless woman, his convent-bred ward Agnes, who is now kept cloisteredbehind his garden walls.
But on returning from a business trip, Arnolphe finds to his horror that not only has Agnes seen another man, she has also fallen in love. And what's worse, the dashing young swain Horace is the son of a friend, and Arnolph has unwittingly lent his rival advice and money for his wooing. In his jealous dither, Arnolphe tries to instruct Agnes in the "duties" of a wife -- a humorously dire and oppressive list -- and the more possessive he becomes, the more he estranges her.
As Arnolphe, Robert Dorfman gives a sympathetic and very physical characterization, grimacing, cringing and limping in a manner that may remind Washington theatergoers of Richard Bauer's antics. Dorfman's Arnolphe is never funnier than when, consumed by jealousy, he tries to put a pleasant face on his rage. Kathryn Marcopulos is the picture of purity as doll-like Agnes, with a Shirley Temple squeak in her voice, and Anthony Fusco is an ardent and very funny Horace. The rest of the cast is also quite good in supporting roles.
The clever set by Michael H. Yeargan looks like a simple engraving colored with felt-tip markers. Arnolphe's house, with its pop-open windows and ladder pegs, rotates on a spindle, an effect the director milks in a short scene in which Arnolphe coaches his servants in deflecting the persistent suitor Horace. The amusing, multi-layered costumes by Jess Goldstein suggest the period with a contemporary twist.
THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES -- At Baltimore's Center Stage through April 13.