Regional Reviews: New Jersey
The Ladies Man: Outstanding Production of
Also see Bob's review of Reparation
The time is around the turn of the (20th) century. The setting is the parlor area of the residence of Dr. Molineaux, which serves as the office for his medical practice. The good doctor lives here with his very young wife, Yvonne, to whom he has been wed for one year. Finding himself to have become impotent, the doctor has taken to sleeping in his office apart from Yvonne. When Yvonne discovers that the doctor has been out overnight, she decides that it is because he is being unfaithful to her. The flummoxed Dr. Molineaux has not been able to acknowledge his problem to his young wife, and, although he has not been unfaithful, the truth about his overnight absence is not easily explained. Yvonne awaits the arrival and counsel of her man-hating, domineering mother, and an amorous patient and her jealous Prussian officer husband on their way to impose themselves. Dr. Molineaux concocts a series of lies to explain his actions, setting in motion a parade of farcical events (mistaken identities, intentions and behaviors; lustful behavior; and the hi-jinks of risible close encounters as the players dash in and out of the five on stage doors) while he endeavors ever more desperately to save his marriage.
There is an eloquence and elegance to this play and production, which sets it apart from the disappointment which several recent farcical plays and their productions have brought. Although they are intertwined and cannot be completely separated, high level farce and slapstick occupy different places on a spectrum. On the low end of the spectrum, slapstick is rough, loud, and pain inducing, with accompanying dialogue that is blunt and inelegant. On the farcical end of the spectrum, the physical movement, and the facial and bodily movement is precise and controlled: there is subtle, observable thought and contemplation as the performer registers facial and physical reactions. The accompanying verbal humor is precise, witty and clever. To put it another way, it is the difference between The Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers.
Credit Charles Morey with a fine adaptation that is very dexterous in using colloquial English to generate laughter in words which clearly deviate widely from the French original. It is difficult to follow all the late twists and chases. No matter what others have said, not being able to do so reduces one's satisfaction.
It seems almost miraculous that Director-Actor Carl Wallnau has been able to capture so much of the too rarely seen classic farce style. Thus, Wallnau must accept the lion's share of the credit for the production's success. As Dr. Hercule Molineaux, Wallnau is stylish and more than willing to make a perfect foil for his fellow cast members. Liz Zazzi is a perfect match for Wallnau as Madame Aigreville, Yvonne's doozy Medusa of a mother. We can almost see the snakes in her hair. Zazzi knows just how far to take Madame's bitchery without making her too unpleasant to enjoy.
Ashley Kowzun brings a welcome freshness and enthusiasm to the role of patient Suzanne Aubin who inanely throws caution to the wind as she pursues a dalliance with her doctor. Colin Ryan is particularly delightful as her Prussian officer husband Gustav. An appropriately larger than life Gustav, Ryan plays as if both he and Gustav are delighted to be Gustav. Ryan is also delighted to deliver the humorous dialogue provided by translator/adaptor Charles Morey, which, in his mouth and accent, are laugh out loud funny.
Robert Anthony Jones (the butler Etienne) and Jaclyn Ingoglia (the maid Marie) make substantial comic contributions as the Molineaux servants.
Best of all is the hilarious and acutely on target performance of Allen Lewis Rickman in the role of Molineaux's friend and patient with a "wisp" Bassinet. Okay, G-d gave him a malleable, cherubic face, but what he does with it here is magic. Rickman's Bassinet is fully developed funny. A simple, not too bright, fellow who regards all the complications of those around him with wide-eyed interest, but is incapable of being aware when the time has come for him to but out. You may remember Rickman from his performance here last season in The Prisoner of Second Avenue.
The playable set for the residence-office by Bob Phillips is cleverly redecorated to serve for the set for the dressmaker's shop where everybody ends up in the second of three acts (one intermission). Julia has designed lovely and evocative fin de siècle era costumes.
Centenary's production of A Ladies Man presents a too rare opportunity to see a darn good adaptation of a classic Feydeau farce performed by a cast (and staged by a director) who knows how to do it.
The Ladies Man continues performances (Evenings: Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday and Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 2 pm through March 4, 2012, at Centenary Stage Company (Sitnik Theatre) at the Lackland Center on the campus of Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Avenue, Hackettstown, New Jersey 07840. Box Office: 908-9794297; online: www.centenarystageco.org.
The Ladies Man by Charles Morey/ Translated and Adapted by Georges Feydeau