Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Heir Apparent
Aurora Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's recent reviews of San Francisco, Here I Come, Josh Grodsky at Society Cabaret, and Tales of Our Cities: Our Lives, Our Heroes

(center) Patrick Kelly Jones, (left-right) Katie Rubin, Elizabeth Carter, Kenny Toll, and Khalia Davis
Photo by David Allen
There is a dichotomy at the heart of The Heir Apparent, currently playing at Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company in an absolutely delightful production helmed by Josh Costello. On one level it's incredibly smart, witty theater, filled with wordplay and providing a commentary on the nature of greed and self-interest. It's David Ives' "re-invigoration" of Jean-François Regnard's 1708 comedy, Le Légataire universel, written entirely in verse, and concerns the impending death of a rich miser and the scheming of those closest to him to be remembered in his will. Could be a bit of yawner, right?

Well, that's where the second level of Ives' work comes into play. Because beneath (and within) the high-minded verse and fancy costumes (which are marvelous, by the way, thanks to the excellent work of designer Callie Floor), there is a commodious amount of scatological and sexual humor, as well as a near overdose of silliness and physical comedy. Somehow, though, director Costello has figured out how to make it all coalesce into a shimmering two hours of inspired wackiness.

As Geronte, the curmudgeonly tightwad whose constant phlegmatic coughing has his family slavering over his soon-to-be-bequeathed millions, Julian Lopez-Morillas is the comic heart of this production. Everything orbits around him because the gravitational pull of his gold (and house and land and tapestries and ...) prevents anyone else from achieving escape velocity. Lopez-Morillas manages what few actors are able to—successfully balancing broad comedy (his emphysemic hacking, the fluttering of his robes to fan away his passed gas, the perfect way he mouths "ow ow ow" as he settles into his chair) with the nuance of precise gesture. A sideways glance, a subtle sneer, a furrowed brow, a tweak of the nose—any and all of these function as turbochargers, boosting the overall comic effect of almost everything he does.

The rest of the cast is, fortunately, right in balance with Lopez-Morillas. Kenny Toll is delightfully mercenary as Geronte's nephew Eraste, shamelessly (and effortlessly) shifting between sycophancy and avarice as he attempts to secure a position as sole heir. Khalia Davis puts her incredibly expressive eyes to good use as Isabelle, Eraste's love interest and daughter of Lady Argante (played with delightful haughtiness by Elizabeth Carter). Katie Rubin's maid Lisette has a charm that hooks the audience from her first lines (which are to remind the audience—in verse, of course—to turn off their cell phones and note the location of exits).

But the performances that most threaten to wrest away the thunder from Lopez-Morillas's stormy Geronte come from Lawrence Radecker and Patrick Kelly Jones. Radecker appears only in the second act, as Geronte's highly diminutive lawyer Scruple, described as being "no bigger than a loophole." (Think Shrek the Musical's Lord Farquaad and you'll be right on target.) But it's Jones' inspired lunacy as Eraste's servant Crispin that pulls the most focus from Geronte. When he appears in disguise as Eraste's fortune-seeking cousin from America, he brings with him many of the biggest laughs of the night. In all his disguises, Kelly is magnificently manic.

Of course, without the foundation of a solid play, actors can struggle to find footing. Not the case here, as we have Regnard's original farce (considered his masterpiece), remodeled with the gingerbread flourishes of Ives' re-invigoration that maintain the verse format, updated with contemporary language and references. You'll hear mention of Godzilla, Cadillacs, Tonto and Kemosabe, Kool-Aid and Tiffany—that all work perfectly to advance story and character, as well as delivering humor. The patter passed too rapidly for me to transcribe them with perfect accuracy, but the play is packed with clever, unexpected rhymes:

          "We're short one grommet." "Then to the mount we'll bring the dead Mohammed."

          "We know we are close. Let's be more motivated, not mor...ose."

          "Let me toss this into the cup: if people want you dead, you've fucked up."

So, if you're in the mood for a bit of silliness (including a flatulent grandfather clock and a will-signing that is successfully played for laughs far longer than one could reasonably expect) that is delivered with brilliant wit, consider The Heir Apparent your personal comedic inheritance.

The Heir Apparent runs through May 15, 2016, at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. Shows are Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $32-$50. Tickets and additional information are available at or by calling 510-843-4822.