There's a treat in store for theatergoers at 80 St. Mark's Place where The Pearl Theatre Company is offering the comedy A Will of His Own, by one of the most popular playwrights in 18th Century France, Jean-Francois Regnard. Performed "en repertoire" with Racine's first theatrical success, the tragic Andromache, and using the same cast in both plays, the Pearl hopes to revitalize the theatrical tradition of the repertory company. With this spirited production of A Will of His Own they're off to a good start.
The play is set in the Parisian home of a wealthy, but ailing, curmudgeon named Geronte. An excellent portrayal of this key character is essential to the play's success. And, to the good fortune of the audience, the wonderful actor John Wylie performs the part with a delicious mixture of obstreperous stinginess, myopic thinking, dyspepsia and plain old general confusion. Geronte and his potential heirs have a problem. For quite some time he has teetered on the brink of death without a properly constructed and legally notarized will. As hordes of greedy relatives from all over France prepare to descend on his peaceful home, he is determined to finally decide upon the division of his estate. The trials and tribulations of this decision stir his household into a dither.
Geronte has a feisty maid/nurse Lisette (Celeste Ciulla), who, in addition to her household duties, must administer torturous medical treatments to her unruly employer. Lisette, Geronte's nephew Valere (Christopher Moore) and Valere's resourceful valet Crispin (Arnie Burton) have worked out a pact. Their scheme is to get the befuddled Geronte to leave his entire estate to nephew Valere who will, in turn, share the fortune with Lisette and Crispin. But to their dissatisfaction Geronte has some ideas of his own, not the least being a marriage proposal to Valere's lovely and very young girlfriend Isabelle (Rachel Botchan).
And so the fun begins. The twists and turns in this light hearted romp gives the irrepressible Arnie Burton the opportunity to hilariously play four different characters, as he, Lisette and Valere try to diffuse each new situation that separates them from the inheritance. This less than scrupulous trio of clowns keeps the action moving at a fast clip as they earnestly attempt to correct one problem just as another arises.
Director Russell Treyz moves his actors along with a natural ease through the difficulties of a play written completely in rhyming couplets. And, with the exception of a few attempts at physical humor that didn't quite work, most of Mr. Treyz's staging was lively and interesting. Costume designer E. Shura Pollatsek captured the feel of the wealthy in the first decade of 18th Century Paris with her lovely period clothing. And Beowulf Boritt has designed an ornate receiving room suitable for a rich Parisian gentleman.
The Pearl Theatre Company has given us the opportunity to see a rarely performed comedy played in rotating repertory as it was originally done by the Comedie-Francaise in the early 1700s. Happily for today's audience, A Will of His Own not only is historically interesting, but is highly entertaining as well.
Picture: Arnie Burton as Crispin, Celeste Ciulla as Lisette. Photo by Tom Bloom.
The Pearl Theatre Company
Showtimes are Tuesdays at 7; Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8; and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 (except no perfs on 4/10, 4/11, 4/12, 4/24, 4/25, 5/8) Please call theater for schedule and tickets: 212 598 9802.
Tickets are $28 for weekday performances and Saturday matinees, and $35 for Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees. Student and senior rush tickets are $10, and available one hour prior to each performance, subject to availability.