Hard-hitting, issue-packed, relevant plays are all the rage right now, but if you are weary of such emotional drain, and would just like some old-fashioned fun, look no further than Olney’s cuter-than-a-kitty and naughtier-than-French-lace-undies production of Fickle. A confection updated to just about perfection.
The “fancy French farce” is by the young playwright Meg Miroshnik. She’s taken all the language and wit of 18th century satirist Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux and given his play, The Double Inconstancy, quite the update and peppered it with French. I was thrilled to see someone still devoted to language writing in this country.
Devotees of commedia dell’arte and physical theater will find plenty of classic mime, double entrendres and je ne sais quoi. The performers act it all out on a doll-sized stage with powder blue ballooning curtains, checkered marble floor, and footlights. The set by Charlie Calvert is a retro marvel and Helen Huang has found some great patterns and a fresh palette to suit up the commedia players.
Director Eleanor Holdridge whips this cream into delicious frothy fun but she also knows that a piece like this needs heart. (There are moments; you’ll have to come see.)
The actors dash through the play at a breathless sprint. You’ve got your “stock” characters, each one cast very well indeed. There’s the handsome ingénue, here a prince, and his advisor and lead servant Trivelin, a kind of pompous pedant. There’s Harlequin and his girl Silvia, both somewhat country bumpkins. There’s the lecherous old man, the Pantalone character, who in this production takes big sucks of oxygen from a mask before tackling any activity, and Flaminia, a mistress of plots and ‘miscarriager’ of justice at times. (But she gets it right, as the women do in this production.)
When the curtain opens, the plot hinges on Silvia’s recent abduction to the palace. She is torn between her loyalty to Harlequin, her memory of a young hunter (the Prince in disguise) whom she met in the woods, and a growing taste for luxuries and power.
Kathryn Tkel as Silvia has the longest dramatic journey to find true love but she breaks all the rules of a classic lassie. At one point she has The Prince groveling and kissing the floor, discovering she likes ordering others about. She pulls off being a supreme b*+^ h as she exercises girl power and at the same time a totally winsome heroine.
Andy Reinhardt plays her beau, Harlequin, who comes to rescue her. The guy is a real clown with a goofy expressive face and an affinity for slapstick comedy and asides. His timing is impeccable, and he propels the show with his swift and surprising changes.
There are several Washington regulars in Fickle. It was a pleasure to see them coalesce into such a happy and successful ensemble. When I think of physical theater and in particular commedia, the first person that comes to mind is Mark Jaster, who’s the local go-to guy when it comes to mime. He’s got a pedigree that goes way back and across the pond to Marcel Marceau and Étienne Decroux. It is always a pleasure to see the man’s control and clarity in every movement. His Pantalone character was written with some repeated gags, including toppling offstage into a great clatter-and-crash but he never lets that box him in.
Christopher Dinolfo is The Prince, and his handsome looks and dumb-as-rocks character belie a highly gifted comic actor at work with a particular talent for mimicry and un penchant pour la réalisateur methóde. The character loves to try on costumes and whip out lines from mega hit movies such as De Niro’s “You talkin’ to me?”
Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan is able to make the Flaminia role, the plot-shifter and maid-of-all-trades, fresh and sassy. At one moment her eyes well up with real tears over her own love predicament. She made me believe with blinding faith that her love for the dithering Harlequin would have her follow him, happily eating their way through fromages for life.
Want to go?
Fickle: A Fancy French Farce
closes March 26, 2017
Details and tickets
The cherry on top (la cerise) ou peut-être la glaçage sur le gâteau of all this fun was the character Lisette played with aplomb by Tanya Beckman. I can’t resist a femme fatale who delivers such a line as “He was not interested [in me], and I put out the whole charcuterie.” At one point she has an interlude monologue where she demonstrates to the audience her new line of beauty marks. She had me at the first dot. A bring-down-the-house moment was when she was instructed to be both “innocent” and “alluring.” She physicalizes one and then the other and then attempts both simultaneously, creating something part moray eel.
Marcus Kyd has shown up in every theatre I’ve been to lately. The ubiquitous fellow as Trivelin perfectly resembled every rule-following nerd one has had occasion to meet. He introduced the show and became de facto (en effet) host of the performance. But I have a bone to pick with that man. I swear his Trivelin planted that cell phone on me. Ah well, grace saved him in his rendition of Tu parles toi-même (which you might know as “All By Myself.”)
Yes there’s singing in it, not all of it good. But who can resist their version of the Cindy Lauper hit “Les filles veulent jusqu’a s’amuser.” And if it’s not be as good as their French? Tant pis (Take a piss)
Girls do just want to have fun. And so has playwright Miroshnik. And so do all of us.
Fickle – A Fancy French Farce. Written by Meg Miroshnik. Directed by Eleanor Holdridge. With Tanya Beckman, Chrisofer Donolfo, Mark Jaster, Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, Marcus Kyd, Andy Reinhardt, and Kathryn Tkel. Scenic Design by Charlie Calvert. Costume Design by Helen Q. Huang. Lighting Design by Nancy Schertler. Sound Design by Roc Lee. Produced by Olney Theatre Center . Reviewed by Susan Galbraith