But David Ives' verse comedy comes vividly, terrifically to life, seven days after our local tragedy and turmoil began. And it's just when real life had become far too complicated and polarized and intractable that somebody finally decided to send in the clowns.
Nicole Angeli (as Clarice) and Maggie Murphy (as Lucrece) are excellent as a pair of wacky, glammed-out Parisian mademoiselles in David Ives' 2011 adaption of Pierre Corneille's 1644 play. Maybe they're always this funny, but I can't help thinking the two young women are extra fine here, at least partly because of distaff director Suki Peters, who helps them find a million nuances as funny young women.
Jared Sanz Agero is delightfully drenched in the role of Dorante, a clever womanizer, and Ben Ritchie is reliably dour and deflating as his truthful servant. But (in real life) both men are serious character actors (notwithstanding Mr. Sanz Agero's wonderful mock swordplay later on) so the two young women on stage with him practically get away with murder, when it comes to comedy. It's all a bit Merry Wives of Windsor-ish in that respect, though the girls don't entirely plot against the confabulator, as in Shakespeare's comedy. And you could do a lot worse than to borrow from Merry Wives.
Things really take off when the ladies come wandering through the Tuileries (as one might, 150 years before the French Revolution). Clarice is unattainable, engaged to another (the feisty John Foughty), and Lucrece is desirably born of wealthy parents. Complications ensue.
Anyway, somehow the verse dialog sounds much better when there are more than just two characters before us, batting rhymes back and forth, as they do in the first five minutes. There's a lot more unpredictability when there are three or more on stage. But maybe we're just listening too closely, and perhaps verse was intended to be half ignored, while our 18th century French counterparts scanned the crowd for familiar faces or comely forms. Here, the rhymes do most of the work, if you let them: stringing jokes and meaning together for you, while you relax into "bar mode."
Overall it's a wonderful collision of the formal and the popularthe structure of rhymed verse is bent and twisted (through Ives' very modern humor) like a deck of cards in the hands of a sleight-of-hand artist. And in those unexpected, up-to-date jokey moments, just after you think you've stumbled into some stuffy wax museum, we get a pie in the face, from a much more modern sensibility.
Good work too, from John Wolbers as Philiste, a confidant of Mr. Foughty's jealous Alcippe; with a charming turn by Robert Ashton as Dorante's father.
Through August 24, 2014, at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity Ave., just inside the gates of University City (off Delmar Blvd.). For more information visit www.stlshakespeare.org.