WSU presents Moliere-inspired social satire ‘KARENS’

“We all need to realize what we don’t know instead of thinking we know everything,” Bruce Cromer said



In contemporary slang, “Karen” is often described as a white, middle-aged, suburban woman behaving entitled or rude, particularly when seeking undeserved special treatment. Through this hot-button, provocative social lens, Wright State University Theatre presents “KARENS: A comedy of bad manners,” a new adaptation of Moliere’s naughty, sophisticated and satirical class comedy “The Learned Ladies” streaming on YouTube from Friday, Feb. 26-Sunday, Feb. 28.

Written and directed by acclaimed WSU actor, director and professor Bruce Cromer and condensed to one hour, “KARENS” primarily deals with the hypocrisy of righteous family members rejecting a daughter’s new love for pious reasons. Following Moliere’s original blueprint, which borrows comic stereotypes from the colorful commedia dell’arte technique, Cromer has crafted the story in rhymed verse, a stylistic trademark of the groundbreaking French playwright’s witty canon including “Tartuffe,” “The Miser” and “The Imaginary Invalid.”

“I like to think of myself just as a humanitarian free-thinker and not be put in a box,” Cromer said. “I hate political theater but I love Moliere. He’s telling us to look at our lives and, (in doing so), he says this is nuts! Moliere got in trouble because people would come to his plays, see themselves on stage and be (furious). Moliere also (creates) good comedy which can be humanized. You don’t have to go broad or over-the-top. (His plays) have a (tinge) of sadness too. In ‘Tartuffe,’ Orgon is duped and his house is brought to ruin because he trusted a charlatan.”

As for “The Learned Ladies,” which premiered in 1672 and became one of Moliere’s most popular works, Cromer felt its strong, opinionated characters were ideal for an irreverent update. Having previously staged the play for WSU in 1996, he was eager to not only return to the plot but inject it with current references to gender identity, social media, COVID-19 and political conspiracies run amok.

“When I think of ‘The Learned Ladies,’ I think of (characters) in the know, people who consider themselves to be above everybody else because they’re in the know,” he said. “They have secrets, education, knowledge. These are elevated women. And when you think about all the conspiracies going on right now, people who are duped by technology hour after hour, it is breaking families apart. The climate right now is so divisive. It’s become us versus them. It’s difficult for families to try to bridge that gap. And you can find any opinion you want reaffirmed by experts and authorities on the Internet. You listen to that and start thinking you know the truth.”

The cast of senior, junior and sophomore BFA acting majors includes: Camille Carmichael, Katie Carter, Abby Fry, Branden Fisher, Sophie Hardy, Tina Hohman, Chap Hollin, Megan Ledford, Hailey Marshall, Dani Nissen, Dylan Roll and Amy Vandyke.

“Working with this cast has given me joy and constant laughter during our virtual rehearsals,” Cromer said. “And we’re all doing something brand new, a world premiere, including the way we’re acting, filming, recording and editing the production. It’s a brave new world for this 64-year-old stage actor, who never directed a film before, not even for the Internet.”

Recognizing “KARENS” may be his WSU swan song after 32 years of service, Cromer, whose previous directorial credits include “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Angels in America,” “Barnaby Rudge,” and “Macbeth” is excited to go out into retirement with a bang. And, interestingly, the title continues to have impactful, timely resonance. In fact, on Feb. 16, charges were dropped against Amy Cooper, a white woman who called the New York City police last May claiming she was being threatened in Central Park by Christian Cooper, a Black birdwatcher. The notorious moment quickly went viral as a case study in race and privilege.

“‘KARENS’ is about indoctrinated women,” Cromer said. “We all need to realize what we don’t know instead of thinking we know everything.”

The production, which contains adult language, can be viewed for free but donations will be accepted at Viewing link will be available through box office tab.

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