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Sitting in the theatre waiting for The Metromaniacs, a new play from the King of 17th and 18th Century adaptations, David Ives (The Liar, The Heir Apparent), a good stiff drink, maybe a Red Bull and Vodka would have been just the ticket. Not that I needed it, although the caffeine in the Red Bull would have helped get me through the slightly slower first act, overall it would have just added to the fun. I was also told by my lovely theater companion to refocus my attention from naval-gazing and people watching to the program notes as written. He instructed me to read the interesting few paragraphs from the playwright Ives describing his inspiration for this new adaptation.
Haphazardly, he stumbled upon an obscure play with the intriguing, and in his mind, most superb title, La Métromanie (simply translated: The Poetry Craze), and he couldn’t help himself. He just had to dig in to this French farcical world, finding a “blurry offprint” online that, to his surprise, had the most disparaging introduction by a French scholar who found the play completely amoral and couldn’t hold back his disapproval. The author, Alexis Piron, a poet from the late 1600’s/early 1700’s, had lived a life “dogged by controversy”, and an “uncanny ability to make powerful enemies”. Mostly forgotten today, his fascinating and intoxicating back story only enticed Ives even more. You see, Piron had a grand and naughty existence, living a life of material comfort (much like his lead character in The Metromaniacs) but failing to be indicted into the Académie Française, for a number of reasons, including a lengthy piece of writing entitled Ode To The Penis. Naturally, with a life and literary history like that, Ives was hooked, as was I. What’s not to love about this story, and what a great way to set oneself up for a night of frivolous and fun farce at the theatre. And it is exactly as one would imagine: it’s playful and ridiculous, just as one should expect from an obscure poet who likes to write long rhythmic studies about genitalia, especially when guided and fiddled with by the witty and genius modern french farce adaptor, David Ives.
Last January, with the same manner of thought, I entered another of Ives’ adaptations at the Classic Stage Company, truly believing that a play written in rhyming pentameter couplets could or would almost always send me instantly into panic mode. In my review of The Liar I wrote that “way back, when I was in my late teens, I sat through a play at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario that was in verse,..that production goes down in my own theatrical history as the most excruciating time spent in a theatre, even more so than Finding Nederland… It’s like PTSD (Post-Theatric Stress Disorder). I literally groaned (internally)“, but much like that gloriously fun farce, my response, I am quite happy to say, was not warranted for The Liar, and most definitely not for The Metromaniacs either. As it began, I reminded myself of his witty and smart writing style and his delight in wordplay, making it possible to set that worry aside, sit back, and be ready to be thrilled and delighted by all the silly jokes and sharp-witted asides. It’s like having a few quick and fizzy cocktails just before the curtain rises; a few Red Bull and Vodkas to sharpen our senses and slap a silly smile on our collective faces. The play is an effervescent tickle and alcohol high, a guaranteed laugh, especially when mixing in the historical reality of the playwright’s muse that spiked this adaptation. So make the next one a strong one, Mr. Barman!
The story line is based on the academically ridiculed Piron play, which back in the day played up a surprisingly true scandal that rocked Paris in its time. In my reading of the literary scandal, it feels almost too far-fetched that this charming and silly play in rhyme could have any connection to reality or history. Knowing the true tale parallels just adds to the joy of Ives adaptation, especially in the details of its fame and popularity. It seems that there was a Parisian poet who wrote under the pen-name of Mademoiselle Malcrais de La Vigne from the distant Brittany, a place not very well-regarded by those snobby Parisians at the time. Her writing was so celebrated and loved by all that the satirist Voltaire publicly declared his love for the lady-writer and her works, offering to marry the poetess, even though they had never met face to face. It was revealed later on that the poetess was really a man by the name of Paul Desforges-Maillard seeking to have revenge upon the poetry establishment for not appreciating his poetic genius. Voltaire, naturally, wasn’t exactly pleased, especially when Piron staged his embarrassment for all to laugh at. And to make matters worse, the show was a hit. Cheers to Piron!
This adaptation of that farce, written by the genius Ives, takes great pleasure sending up all the stories that Piron most lovingly created, converging them all in the fanciful ballroom of his Desforges-Maillard/Piron stand-in creation, the very wealthy and ill-regarded poet by the name of Francalou. He is played here in the Red Bull Theater production with a sweet simpleton manner by the always delicious Adam LeFevre (The Liar, Broadway’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert), having a grand old-time ushering in the far too numerous goings-on. Ives described his play as “a comedy with five plots, none of them important“, and he couldn’t be more correct in that statement. But it is in the ridiculousness of these plots (especially knowing they all are sort of based on fact) that the beauty and the fun flows like cheap champagne. So please sir, refill my glass. I want some more…
There is a [editor’s note: please place the adjective ‘ridiculous’ before each and every character descriptive] young poet by the name of Damis, played with a grin and a smirk by the handsome Christian Conn (Red Bull’s The School for Scandal). He has, like Voltaire, fallen in love with the prose of the mysterious, but unseen female poet. Arriving at the home of Francalou with his trusted valet, Mondor, played with a drunken and adorable charm by Adam Green (Red Bull’s The Witch of Edmonton), he is playing a different part with almost every person who walks into the ballroom, one of which is surprised by the arrival of his angry uncle, Baliveau, well-played by the wonderfully fun Peter Kybart (Broadway’s Awake and Sing) who has an axe to grind with his young and frivolous nephew. Why all the different names and disguises incognito? I could try to explain, but in more ways than one, you should just swallow it all like a stiff shot, and just believe that with enough, it will all come close to seeming necessary. Or at least feel like a whole lot more fun. So order me another one, and make it quick!
There is the young dull-minded and dim-witted Dorante, played with a glorious physicality by the dashing Noah Averbach-Katz (Two Rivers’ The Lion in Winter) who wants desperately to be loved by Francalou’s lovely and poetry-obsessed daughter, Lucille, played with a perfect level of distracted deliciousness by Amelia Pedlow (Primary Stage’s Pride and Prejudice). Dorante, in need of some great help and guidance in this matter, as it appears he’s quite unable to manage this himself, is assisted by the gloriously funny Dina Thomas (Off-Broadway’s Tribes) as Lisette, Lucille’s maid and sometimes stand-in actress. She is wonderfully silly in the part, flinging herself into every situation with glee and levitating all around her, or “vice versa“. All of these seven delectable characters are having the time of their lives, running in and out, frolicking and diving into each other in a manner that could only happen in a farce of this nature. It’s gloriously fun, as the rhythmic words fly off each other’s lips with aplomb, as if they are all drunk on love, poetry, and a never-ending supply of mirth and bubbly.
It’s a perfectly delectable fun couple of hours. The first act does drag a bit, feeling less like champagne, and more like fizzy water. I did occasionally lose track of myself, but the second half finds its teetering footing and skips easily homeward bound, wrapping up all the story lines with zeal, and finding love and companionship for all. The Liar, Ives’ modern take of Shakespearian proportions on a French Comedy, which in turn was based on a Spanish play, La Verdad Sospechosa, somehow seems a stronger and structurally better play, suited more to this type of ingenious adaptation. It might just be that The Metromaniacs‘ base ingredient is not as high quality or top shelf as The Liar‘s, but director Michael Kahn (Broadway’s Whodunnit), as he did with The Liar, keeps the giddiness at a high and festive level. With strong work from the design team of James Noone (set design), Murell Horton (costumes), Betsy Adams (lighting), Adam Wernick (composer), Matt Stine (sound), and wig design by Dori Beau Seigneur, Ives generously treats us to his quickness and fanciful flair for the ridiculousness, just like any good bartender pouring some inventive cocktails should. The production keeps the energy and the charm flying high and free, with the flavorful bubbly flowing, but the buzz can’t last forever. It fades not too far from the theatre once all this madness gets wrapped up, but the time spent inside the Duke on 42nd Street drinking in the joyfulness of The Metromaniacs is time well spent. The remedy, you see, for all that scandal outside the door, is right here, inside this farce. So drink up fellas, so that we all can handle another day of CNN and MSNBC, cause that scandal is not going to go anyway any time soon.