By George Feydeau
Translation by Mawbrey Green and Ed Feilbert
Produced by Olney Theatre Center .
Directed by John Going
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
No need for Viagra™ in George Feydeau’s 13 Rue de L’Amour, just a mistress or two and a forgiving wife. But you have to put this master of the French farce in his historical place to bask fully in the foolery at the Olney Theatre Center.
Feydeau wrote 39 farcical melodramas from 1881 to 1916, as a rebellion against exalted values, hypocrisy and tangled alliances in the Belle Epoch before the outbreak of WWI. Live for the moment; anything goes in a decadent time. Translated by Mawby Green and Ed Feilbert, Olney’s 13 Rue de L’Amour (the address of the Act II bachelor love nest) is memorable for an in-the-period production with actors who play the style with spirited gaiety, as lighthearted as Offenbach’s ‘Gaite Parisienne’.
Director John Going has unleashed the secret to making farce genuinely funny. Actors have to play it real, make the absurd believable. No matter how silly Feydeau’s attacks on the rules of straight-laced decorum may seem, the actors make us care about these characters as real people with foibles just like our own. Meet the well-teamed cast: Ashley West as the virtuous but vengeful Leontine Duchotel; Lawrence Redmond, as her philandering husband, Justinien; Jeffries Thaiss as the lust-filled charmer, Gustave Moricet; and Nick DePinto as the rakish nephew, Jean-Pierre. All perform like skilled farceurs in command of their craft. Instead of heavy-handed “get this” obviousness, asides to the audience are deftly off-the-cuff.
Right off, we are asked to suspend our disbelief that the zoological difference between rabbits and hares is significant. Where there are rabbits, there are no hares; and where there are hares, there are no rabbits. ‘Ah-hah’, says Leontine, whose tip-off that her husband is cheating on her comes when he says he killed both on one hunt. Actually the happy hunter-husband is dallying with two mistresses, each in separate digs. But Leontine is too scared to take revenge with the doctor-in-heat, Moricet, who lures her to his bachelor pad. Thereafter, husbands and wives, even a nude nephew get caught in flagrante delicto in a frantic whirl of off-taking of trousers, mistaken identities, and eye-popping exposures, until Moricet regrets the day he ever set out to seduce a “respectable woman.”
Style is what this production is all about, replete with a delicious cameo portrayal by Halo Wines as Madame Spritzer, a.k.a the Countess. A wonderful moment: Wines literally purrs over the memory of the physique of the Circus Maximus’ lion tamer, the lover who ruined her marriage and life. Society never forgives a liaison with the lower class, she tells us. Vincent Clark is aptly bumbling and foggy about being the cuckolded husband and Ethan T. Bowen adds a drop of the sly to his debonair portrayal of the French gendarmes’ Inspector of Police, resolute in solving the mystery of who did what to whose wife.
The coupling and uncoupling of lovers is so fast paced, the door-slamming sequences so split-second, you hold your breath until a wild husband is snared into confessing the Truth. Going tightens the plot strings of Feydeau’s original further by fusing Acts I and II before intermission. The build up to this climax and thereafter is so enjoyable, you want the tableau at curtain call to come to life for yet another act.
The French hold Feydeau on a pedestal next to Moliere, who always slips us a moral. If there’s a moral to 13 Rue de L’Amour, it’s this: Logic and reason are worthless. Only irrational behavior that leads to anarchy exposes what’s really going on. If the foregoing is accepted as a definition for Theatre of the Absurd, then this play is in the line-up as a progenitor.
What this production adds up to is infinite fun. Whimsical design by James Wolk sets a stage, dominated by hot pink, clashing reds, black and white. The flashy costumes by Liz Covey carry out the color scheme. The style is all art nouveau. The trick-of-the-eye, false-proscenium is late 19th century curvilinear. The five-doors for slamming, with French doors to the balcony counting as two, conform to traditional staging for Farce. All the ingredients work: Let’s try another moral: Don’t leave love letters in your pockets. Someone might steal into your hotel room and walk out wearing your trousers.
(Running time: Approx. 1:40 with 1 intermission. )13 Rue de L’Amour continues at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, until June 10th, Sundays, 7:30 p.m. (except day of closing June 10); Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; matinees on Wed., Sat., and Sun. at 2 p.m. (except Wed, May 30). Tickets: $25-$46 with discounts available for groups, senior citizens and students. Post-show discussion: Wed., May 30 at 8 p.m. with the cast. Call box office: 301-924-3400 or go to the Olney website.