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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Now Ives has pulled another play by a less well known 18th century playwright, Alexis Piron, out of the musty trunk of forgotten works for the Red Bull Theater Company's latest offering. As I took my seat at the company's current home at the Duke on 42nd Street, the proscenium and curtain brought to mind Red Bull's wonderful vaudevillian production of The Government Inspector.
According to Mr. Ives' program notes the only reason Piron, never made the Academie Francaise was because he'd written a poem titled "Ode to the Penls." This actually intrigued the less prudish Ives to apply his skills as a translator-adapter-versifier to La Metromanie and give it its due as a masterpiece.
I don't quite agree with Mr. Ives assessment of The Metromaniacs as a masterpiece; nor is what happens when the curtain is drawn as dynamic, timely and farcically perfect Red Bull's take on the Gogol play (which IS a masterpiece). That said the production as helmed by Michael Kahn and adapted and versified by Mr. Ives has a lot to say about art and is often fun. In fact its second and better act makes you understand why Mr. Ives, upon reading the original French text, found it magical comic gold and another opportunity for him to pull out his rhyming dictionary.
Since Piron was a poet first and playwright second, Ives' fiddled even more than usual with adapting his source material. As he admits in that long but entertaining and informative program note, "Piron wasn't much of a farcifactor." It was therefore up to his adaptation to more carefully heed the timing of entrances and exits and clarifying the various characters' misunderstandings and motivations. He doesn't fully overcome Piron's dramaturgical shortcomings until the fourth wall breaking opening of the second act.
The play coincides with a time when poets. were rock stars. It was also a satiric dig at Voltaire who fell in love with a mysterious poetess who turned out to be a wealthy aristocrat. It's in the mansion of Francalou, a poetry loving gentleman incognito playwright that The Metromaniacs unfolds. Scenic d authoresigner James Noone has combined the mansion's ballroom accouterments (chandeliers and painting lined foyers( with a painted cardboard forest of trees and rocks. This single set efficiently serves the play within the play set-up in which we watch the story Francalou's secretly penned wannabe hit being cast as well as enacted.
True to the typical farce of the period, there are romantic mix ups, older and younger generational conflicts and the inevitable pairing of everyone for a happy ending. One pairing even provides a nifty surprise.
The actors wrest every possible laugh from their roles: Adam LeFevre as the verse enamored Francalau, Amelia Pedlow as his deliciously dumb daughter Lucille and Dina Thomas as the feisty maid Lisette. . . Christian Conn as the talented visiting poet Damis and Noah Averbach-Katz as the delightfully dumb as one of those cardboard trees Dorante who competes for the love of the identically costumed Lucille and Lisette (fine work all around by costumer Murell Horton) . . .Adam Green as Mondor the crafty valet. . . Peter Kybart as Mondor's grumpy uncle Baliveau who gets some of the funniest lines.
Unlike the afore mentioned The Government Inspector, which had a clear-cut star in Michael Urie, The Metromaniacs is a through and through ensemble piece. The real star here is David Ives. It's his wordsmithing that makes Piron's play worth retrieving.
As he has before, Ives manages to smoothly insert lots of contemporary references. There are too many of these on the mark and funny and naturally flowing rhymed lines to single out any as the best.
Even though The Metromaniacs doesn't hit the bulls eye for all its hour and forty five minutes (including an intermission), Mr. Ives makes the best case for seeing the play with his program note conclusion: "Given what greets us in the morning newspapers these days, a few yards of gossamer maybe just what the doctor ordered." To paraphrase his "Merci, Monsieur Piron" — Thank YOU, Mr. Ives. If a sense of humor could be taught to replace mean-spiritedness, you should be immediately dispatched to the White House.
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The Metromaniacs by David Ives
Adapted from Alexis Piron's La Metromanie
Directed by Michael Kahn
Noah Averbach-Katz (Dorante), Christian Conn (Damis), Adam Green (Mondor), Peter Kybart (Baliveau), Adam LeFevre (Francalou),Amelia Pedlow (Lucille),Dina Thomas (Lisette)
Set design by James Noone
Costume design by Murell Horton
Lighting design by Betsy Adams
Sound design by Matt Stine
Original music composed by Adam Wernick
Wig design: Dori Beau Seigneur
Vocal Coach: Deborah Hecht
Stage Manager: Kristin M. Herrick
Running time: one hour and forty-five minutes, including one intermission
The Duke on 42nd Street 229 West 42nd Street
From 4/10/18; opening 4/22/18; closing 5/26/18
Tuesday & Wednesday evenings at 7:30, Thursday, Friday & Saturday evenings at 8pm, with matinees select Wednesdays at 2pm, Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 3pm.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 4/18 press preview
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