WASHINGTON, February 14, 2015 –Washington Shakespeare Theatre artistic director Michael Kahn has struck a brilliant balance this winter season by staging the dark and serious drama of “Dunsinane”—currently playing at Sidney Harman Hall—against the contrasting mood of the light, tight and airy French farce “Metromaniacs,” now being staged at the company’s Lansburgh Theatre.
The Shakespeare Theatre’s version of “Metromaniacs”—brilliantly translated and adapted by David Ives from French playwright Alexis Piron’s 1738 madcap comedy “La Métromanie”—is a fast paced, poetry-laced comedy that hooks the audience’s imagination with images of French bourgeois opulence and ridiculous decorum.
Both a poet’s dream and a satire on poetry itself, Ives’ adaptation, like Piron’s nutty original, consistently delivers endless strings of naughty couplets throughout its pair of acts, transforming each performance into a strictly enforced Frown-Free Zone.
According to Michael Kahn, who also directs this current production, “David’s translations have swiftly become the industry standard, produced by theaters across the country, and his ability to unearth and revitalize works that haven’t seen the stage in centuries is uncanny,” says Michael Kahn. “David doesn’t just translate these plays. He brings them to life.”
We would have to agree.
What makes the whole thing really work, though, are the high energy efforts of a tight, eight member ensemble cast. It’s a three-ring circus, headed up by Adam LeFevre as Francalou, a frustrated poet and the father of Lucille, the young woman every man desires. Alas, the lovely Lucille is perfectly vain and utterly clueless, as portrayed to perfection by Amelia Pedlow.
Lucille’s amorous suitors include would-be poet Damis, played with a ruffled, myopic flourish by Christian Conn, who accentuates his caricature of a character by affecting oddly contemporary Woody Allen bifocal frames; and incompetent, inarticulate, decidedly non-poetic Dorante, the son of Francalou’s arch enemy. He’s marked early on as least likely to succeed as either a poet or Lucille’s ardent lover.
As Damis and Dorante vie for Lucille’s attention, Damis’ sly servant Mondor (Michael Goldstrom) literally steals his master’s book of verse, the better to carry on his hot pursuit of Lucille’s maid Lisette (Dina Thomas).
Lisette, in turn, confuses all three of these hapless male suitors by becoming a look-a-like version of her mistress Lucille. It is Lisette as well who delivers some of the evening’s most memorable lines. That includes her declaration, “All tits on board,” heartily delivered as she and Lucille entice the confused suitors to join them in a comic romp through scenic designer James Noone’s beautifully crafted, wooded landscape.
Better still—they all carry on their amorous adventures clad in authentic costume confections created by Murell Horton. Both the settings and the costumes effortlessly transport the audience back to 17th century Paris.
The play, the adaptation, the spot-on acting and direction, the sets, the costuming and the scintillating and often uproariously funny poetry—all the above are the perfect comic antidote to this week’s latest unwelcome invasion of the Polar Vortex.
Rating: **** (4 out of 4 stars)
Also on tap at the Shakespeare Theatre: “Poets are Present”
In conjunction with its month-long run of “Metromaniacs,” The Shakespeare Theatre Company is also taking the opportunity to host a series of more than 30 “Poets Are Present” pre-performance poetry sessions in the Lansburgh Theatre lobby.
Even cast member and published poet Adam LeFevre will lead a two hour Poetry Writing Workshop on Sunday, February 15th from 1:00 to 3:00 p. m., that will include writing exercises and structure critiques to those poets bold enough to participate and share their works.
Here’s the Shakespeare Theatre’s explanation of how each “Poets Are Present” event will work:
Each evening during the Poets are Present residency, a poet will be in residence in our lobby for one hour before curtain. The poets will discuss poetry, write original pieces and share their work. Every audience member will be emailed a sample of the poet’s work following the production.
Also participating in the “Poets Are Present” series are The DC Youth Poetry Slam Team, the Capital Hill Poetry Group, and an eclectic blend of performers and poets of every ethnic blend. Poet-personalities include Pages Matam—a multidimensional touring artist who currently resides in the D.C. metropolitan area, but hails originally from Cameroon—to Tafisha A. Edwards, a Guyanese-Canadian poet, Cave Canem fellow, graduate of the University of Maryland’s Jiminéz-Porter Writers’ House, an editor of Split Lip Magazine’s Poetry and a former American Poetry Museum educator; and also to Regie Cabico, the first Asian American poet to win the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam.
Cabico has appeared on 2 seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and NPR’s Snap Judgement, while Matam is a Write Bloody Author, playwright, and 2014 National poetry slam champion along various other awards. His passions are in the field of education, violence and abuse trauma work, and youth advocacy.
And if you still can’t get enough poetry, remember: If you truly love fast-paced poetry with a splash of French period farce, “Metromaniacs” will fill your heart’s desire for a mid-winter warm front imported from the south side of the English Channel. It will provide a welcome winter escape for those who can’t live on Shakespeare alone.
Performances of “Metromaniacs” will run through March 8, 2015 at the intimate Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh Street, Washington D.C., in the heart of the Penn Quarters arts district.
Approximate running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.
For tickets, information and directions: Visit ShakespeareTheatre.org or call them at 202-547-3230.
“Metromaniacs” is presented as a part of Comedy Française – The Clarice Smith Series.