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CurtainUp Review
A Will Of His Own

by Kathryn Osenlund

Arnie Burton as Crispin & John Wyle as Gerone
(Photo: Tom Bloom

Normally I review for CurtainUp in Philadelphia, but then this assignment was given to me, an out-of-town academic in the big city for the weekend. My colleague, who was under the impression that classics are "good for you" but not much fun, informed me on the way to the theater that he planned to catch up on some sleep during the performance.

A Will of His Own is about a comic servant who manages to divert the fortune of a miser/suitor/old fart, outwit a young suitor figure, and nicely arrange affairs for himself and his lady love, all in one day. Often classic plays confront fundamental moral struggles. This play may be from the period of Classical French drama, but it neatly manages to sidestep the moral stuff as it revels in today's take on 1700's humor--toilet bowl and otherwise. I imagine the original had the same sort of silly bawdiness.

I noticed that the Pearl Theatre Company on St. Mark's Place attracts regulars of all ages who want to see classic theatre. They seem to know the actors, and on this occasion gave an especially hearty welcoming applause at John Wylie's entrance. The reason why quickly became apparent. What an actor! What a ham! The play moved along under the direction of Russell Treyz, and all the actors were first-rate. Celeste Ciulla's Lisette was perky and bright. Arnie Burton as Crispin was part Danny Kaye with intimations of Carol Burnett and others. One of his impersonations is played as an American dummy with a southwest redneck accent. (with perfect terminal couplets, of course). Did Regnard's boor spout expressions from the provinces?

Jean-Francois Regnard would have been about 18 when Moliere died. I have heard his plays likened to Moliere's, and there is a resemblance, but he is no Moliere. He can do comedy, however. Either he can or Michael Feingold has found a way to make a 1708 play live for a 2001 audience. He hits us over the head with the news that this classic is not just a period piece. Writing with the sensibilities of our times well in mind, he goes beyond a translator's intellectual exercise to reinterpret and re-realize the play. His interpretation bubbled and flowed out of the actors. I thought, this translator should be writing plays; wait, maybe he is.

A Will of His Own is reminiscent of Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters, written after Regnard's day, just as a Moliere style was overtaking the traditional commedia dell' arte style in Italy. Both plays are examples of the wily servant tradition, with a rollicking and rousing comedic feel.

The Pearl Theatre Company presents A Will of His Own and Racine's Andromache in rotating repertory. I would love to see these wonderful actors tackle the Racine.

This play was far too diverting to be good for you, and my companion wide awake throughout, applauded loudly at the end.

By Jean-Francois Regnard, translated by Michael Feingold
Directed by Russell Treyz
Cast: Rachel Botchan, Arnie Burton, Celeste Ciulla, Dominic Cuskern, Andrew Firda, Valerie Leonard, Christopher Moore, John Wylie, Felice H. Yeh
Set Design: Beowulf Boritt
Lighting Design: Chris Dallos
Costume Design: E. Shura Pollatsek
Sound Design: Johnna Doty
Running time: approx 2 hours with one intermission
03/29/01-06/17/01; opening 4/09/01 , alternating with Andromache

Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 04/07 performance


2001 CD-ROM Deluxe

The Broadway Theatre Archive

(C)Copyright 2001, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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