Moliere’s ‘The Bungler “flits along on Shakespeare stage

By Liz Keill

MADISON, NJ – It’s always refreshing to see a play that just isn’t done that often. Such is the case of “The Bungler,” an early Moliere play from 1655. Most of the dialogue is in rhyme, although every now and then the actors take off in other directions.

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The translation by Richard Wilbur is fluid, although the play itself lacks the cleverness of “The School for Wives” and “The Misanthrope.”

Director Brian B. Crowe has assembled a fine cast to carry off this light-hearted tale of blundering escapades. Aaron McDaniel as Lelie is the hapless young man who falls in love with the fetching Celie, played with charm and a certain reserve by Sophia Blum.

Lelie’s valet, Mascarille, keeps concocting various ruses to help Lelie win her hand. Kevin Isola is superb, along the lines of a court jester, creating havoc as he creates one intricate plot after another.  Unfortunately, the somewhat dimwitted Lelie can’t quite follow the nuances and consistently blunders along.  Of course, other characters add to the frenetic pace.

Devin Conway as Hippolyte is initially desired by Lelie and Lenadre, until Celie appears on the scene.  Hippolyte is cunningly costumed by Paul Canada with an enormous white wig, high heels, a puffy short dress and satin bows, all in creamy white. In fact, Canada’s exuberant costumes add tremendous flair to the entire production.  

When we meet James Michael Reilly, decked out as Anselme, he’s all flourishes  and pretention, waving around his silk purse, which Mascarille tries several times to steal. We see at the end that  he and his daughter Hippolyte, as well as her would-be husband, Leandre (Sam Ashdown) are color coordinated.

Drew Dix is stalwart and determined as Lelie’s father and Eric Hoffmann enters the fray as Trufaldin, who has taken in Celie as his slave.  Danilo Ottaviani is a staunch messenger and also appears as Andres, a supposed gypsy.

In one scene, masked dancers are presumably present to distract Trufaldin and abduct Celie, but that plan falls by the wayside. Like so much of Moliere’s work, this exaggerated tale makes little sense, but does reveal how gullible most of us are in various circumstances.  Even Lelie captures our sympathy as he continues to wreak havoc from his valet’s cunning deceptions.

Dick Block has designed a set replicating a public square in Messina, Sicily, with pastel houses, a balcony and shades of terracotta and blue.

“The Bungler” is a perfect escape for a warm summer evening or afternoon. Performances continue at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University, through July 30. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.