Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Heir Apparent

Also see Susan's reviews of The Boy Detective Fails and The Hollow

Andrew Veenstra and Floyd King
The creation of a buoyant farce that appears effortless is one of the most difficult tricks that any playwright, director or actor can carry off. In the case of David Ives' blissful play The Heir Apparent, receiving its world premiere at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company, it's even more of a feat: Ives wrote it in rhymed couplets, including the occasional anachronism and blunt language.

Director Michael Kahn and his seven-member cast strike all the appropriate notes in this tale of love and money, adapted from a 1708 work by the French playwright Jean-François Regnard. If some of the plot elements seem familiar—one need look no farther than Molière's The Imaginary Invalid and The Miser—Ives gives them a fresh twist. (And who knew the movie Weekend at Bernie's had an 18th-century antecedent?)

Handsome but poor Eraste (Andrew Veenstra) is in love with Isabelle (Meg Chambers Steedle), daughter of imperious Madame Argante (Nancy Robinette), but he lacks the money to marry her. Eraste's wealthy uncle, Geronte (Floyd King), has been moldering on his deathbed for some time and is finally ready to make his will. How can the young lovers ensure that Eraste will inherit the whole pile of money? That's where his servant, Crispin (Carson Elrod), and the old man's maid, Lisette (Kelly Hutchinson), come in.

Elrod dazzles in the star role of Crispin, the clever servant who calls himself "a one-man Comédie Francaise." The character's improvisations and impersonations drive the plot, so the audience watches as Crispin shifts guises—in seconds—from a zany backwoodsman in fringed buckskin and coonskin cap to the pudgy heiress to a pig farm. (Murell Horton has designed the lavish costumes, which range from the elegant to the absurd.)

King continues his tradition of shamelessly stealing every scene in which he appears (his bronchial coughs just keep getting funnier), while Robinette is a delight as yet another slightly addled would-be grande dame.

The humor is often crude, but always elegantly phrased: for example, in the midst of a great many anatomical comments, Lisette says of Geronte that "His bowels are the only part that moves." The incongruous references to Godzilla, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, soccer moms, and national health insurance just add to the laughs. It all runs like clockwork—and, in fact, a large, wheezing clock is a highlight of Alexander Dodge's opulently cluttered scenic design.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Heir Apparent
September 6th - October 23rd
Adapted by David Ives from the comedy by Jean-François Regnard
Lisette: Kelly Hutchinson
Crispin: Carson Elrod
Eraste: Andrew Veenstra
Madame Argante: Nancy Robinette
Geronte: Floyd King
Isabelle: Meg Chambers Steedle
Scruple: Clark Middleton
Directed by Michael Kahn
Harman Center for the Arts, Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

Photo: Scott Suchman