RED BANK: GRADUATING FROM ‘SCHOOL’

School For Wives (horiz) COLORArnolphe (Robert Stanton) loses patience with his idiotic servants (Bree and Carson Elrod) in Two River Theater Company’s production of THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES, now entering its final weekend. (Photo by T.C. Erickson)

This weekend offers four final opportunities to study up on The School for Wives, the updated 17th century French comedy now onstage at Two River Theater as the opening event in Two River Theater Company’s 2014-2015 season.

Translated into English language verse by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Richard Wilbur, and directed by British actor and educator Mark Wing-Davey, the 1662 classic by the French farcemaster Molière tells the story of wealthy Arnolphe, the naïve young thing that he cultivates as his future Perfect Wife — and the ways in which the carefully micro-managed scheme backfires on the schemer — with a production design (including a whirling dollhouse of a set by Tony winner David Gallo) that’s first-rate as ever, and a central casting choice that may pop the monocles (and flip the powdered wigs) of you Moliere purists in the audience.

As Arnolphe (or Monsieur de la Souche, the upper-crust name that he’s pretty much adopted for himself), stage and screen character actor  Robert Stanton is onstage throughout in the richly textured, surprisingly complex role of the status-conscious, obsessive control freak — throwing his all-American comedic style and gangly body English (that was him as the well-meaning but overwhelmed father of Dennis the Menace in the 1993 movie) into a part that’s traditionally been framed as a pompous, overfed blowhard. While his Arnolphe certainly has his cruelly suffocating streak, in Stanton’s hands (and size-15 feet) we see a vulnerable, sympathetic side to the Ichabod-thin figure in the tailored suit — and we even occasionally wonder why Agnes (Phillipa Soo), his unexpectedly independent-minded young ward, might have fallen for Horace (Korey Jackson), the sporting but probably not very dependable young guy on the Vespa scooter.

Funny support comes from the sibling act of Bree and Carson Elrod as bumbling bumpkin servants Georgette and Alain — and from Steven Rattazzi in a brief stint as a grandiose local Notary. Gallo’s turntable set is augmented by Emily Rebholz’s 1950s-inspired costumes, and incidental music by Brandon Wolcott that plays a big part in a second-act attack sequence under cover of night.

Remaining performances of The School for Wives are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, plus Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm. Take it here for tickets ($20 – $65) — and here for our interview with Mark Wing-Davey.