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A CurtainUp Review
To Fool the Eye
"This place is completely frozen in the three days of that summer. "—Hotel Cafe Proprietor
Maureen Torsney-Weir, Amanda Holston
(Photo credit: Mark Garvin)
1812 Productions has picked up To Fool the Eye, Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Jean Anouilh's once-upon-a-time comic loss fantasy, Leocadia. A romcom distinguished by an elaborate pretense, it's the story of a doting duchess who attempts to literally recreate a memory. She wants to help her beloved nephew recover and retain recollections of his infatuation with Leodacia, an eccentric opera singer who died some time back. The duchess stops at nothing to pull her nephew, Prince Albert, out of his sadness. She has buildings moved, provides scripts for the participants in her charade, and finally hires a Leodacia look-alike.

To Fool the Eye has admirable qualities, but the comedy doesn't hold up, partly because of Hatcher's adaptation choices and partly due to elements of director Jennifer Childs' production. This comedy may be droll, but mostly the audience isn't laughing.

A crisp Maureen Torsney-Weir as the doughty duchess sets the tone and spirit of the play. However, Mr. Hatcher's adaptation could have made the point that she is comically long-winded without actually bogging down the performance to demonstrate it. Although this able actress does as well as anyone possibly could with the script, the playwright could have perked up flagging interest and lost half an hour by carving out the fat around her precious amusing nuggets.

David Howey, himself an older man, does good Old Men. Unencumbered by scripted verbosity, his characters' demeanor and expressions steal scenes.

Among the shows high points is the ensemble, which has the timing down flat. A marvelously overbearing head butler (Brian McCann), commands a comic line of waiters and also sharply orchestrates the show's transitions. The assemblage of characters in the second act's key gypsy cafe scene, choreographed by Dave Jadico, are fascinating to watch and hear as they hang about, dance, and make impromptu music with tableware. Spirited musicians playing Christopher Colucci's original gypsy music provide ambiance.

The cafe scene is not without issues, however, as it carries the melodramatic message and deconstructs the Prince's great loss, exposing it as basically silly. Michael Doherty, suitably depressed as Prince Albert, swings from miserable to melancholy and back, and finally emerges from his gloom. Lovely Amanda Holston, bright but well under-nuanced as the forthright mademoiselle Amanda, lacks definition in her role as the replacement Leocadia.

Burdened by the Prince's lengthy speeches and the mademoiselle's repetitions, the café scene, like the first act, would benefit from the sacrifice of half an hour's talk. Of course the sage advice, "Brevity is the soul of wit" is too late here, and anyway it was originally uttered by Polonius, a character not known for being succinct.

Adam Riggar's cute and charming faux French scenic design (beautifully lighted by Shelley Hicklin) briefly employs trompe l'oeil with live persons peering from within the frames of portraits. However, the wonderful set has a liability: The frankly fake look of a managed reality, although consistent with the play's theme, forces the activity onto a narrow plane inside a large proscenium picture frame. While the flat surface carries the concept, it denies the capacity to provide enough spatial depth to support oblique movement and potentially more interest-worthy fluid action, especially throughout the first act.

It's important that To Fool the Eve achieves an interesting interplay of the 'real' with the constructed, pretend reality, and with memory. But as the different levels converge, the so-called real stuff doesn't come off particularly realistic, and as far as the fake stuff goes, it's not an easy task to present deliberate artifice and avoid coming across as too artificial to maintain interest.

Despite Torsney-Weir's way with a phrase and Howey's way with old men; despite the lively ensemble, pretty sets, costumes, and well played music, this soufflé, sagging from excess starch and fat, falls a bit flat.

To Fool the Eye
Adaptation of Anouilh's Leocadia by Jeffrey Hatcher
Translated by Stephanie Debner
Directed by Jennifer Childs

Cast: Amanda Holston, Maureen Torsney-Weir, David Howey, Michael Doherty, Brian McCann, David Blatt; Dana Marcus, Bianca Vasaturo. Ensemble: Allison Brobst, Alex Cummiskey, Vincent Giannone, Paul Holleger, Todd Hullfish, Eric Martin, Samantha Wend
Set Design: Adam Riggar
Lighting Design: Shelley Hicklin
Sound Design & original music: Christopher Colucci
Costume Design: Alisa Sickora-Kleckner
Feb 14- Mar 3, 2013.
1812 Productions, the only professional U.S. theater company dedicated exclusively to comedy, is in residence at Drexel University's Mandell Theater.
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 02/23 performance at Mandell Theater, Drexel University
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