An Evening of French Farce
1997, Off-Off-Broadway, NY
By Georges Feydeau/Moliere
Review by Scott Vogel
Since the word "farce" originates from the French
farci, it is hardly surprising that such plays are "stuffed"
with complex plots, endless coincidences, sparkling wit, and no small amount of
slapstick. Productions of farces are often further stuffed, or in this case
overstuffed, with desperate attempts to "punch-up" humor that is
assumed to be dated. Allegra Schorr, in her director's introduction to Feydeau's
Brothers in Crime, is hopeful that "we can still enjoy the lessons
of the past," but there is more than a hint of resignation here. Her
solution? To serve up a generous helping of ham farci -- a dish here defined as
an evening of mugging and overgesticulation by actors. Given the obvious talent
of the performers here, this should never have happened.
For his part, David Davalos, the director of Sganarelle,
was not content with eye-popping stares and homages to the Three Stooges. He
"added" modernization to the comic mix. This was an interesting
premise, but it seemed haphazardly tacked on. While the pre-show music was '80s,
lovebeads and hiphuggers suggested '60s (great costumes by Nan Young);
furthermore, it is impossible to state what comment on either the play or
society was intended by all this time-travelling.
Farces must be stuffed, but never randomly. Feydeau, ever protective of his recipe, once insisted that "vaudevilles must be played as if they were a tragedy. Their intentions are betrayed by playing them like a farce." In Brothers, the characters are in a deadly serious situation: all indications are that a murderer has entered their living room. But one would never know it from the broad grins and exaggerated mannerisms shown here, gestures that only undermined the play's great comedy. (No offense is intended to the actors here. It would be a treat to see Trent Dawson, Alyson Reim, and Robert Bowen, Jr., under different directorial circumstances.) It is, however, a pleasure to report that the dog (Dinky) broke character only rarely, yawning several times from his perch on a desk. He must have ... no, that would be too easy.
Speaking of the desk, and of the sets in general, James
Basewicz's pink-and-gray arched structure and Jacqueline Lowry's lighting were
just right. Doors flew open and slammed shut completely, and never once did the
entire edifice wobble, as is so often the case.
Often wobbling violently, and to amusing effect, was Ed Baker, in Sganarelle's title role; there were also hints of depth in his reading of the great soliloquy to Honor. As the guardian Lisette, Julia McLaughlin was also notable, both for her line readings and the charming way in which she drank a slurpee. As for the rest, a little friendly directorial advice, courtesy Eric Bentley: "The amateur actor misses it, and tries to act the gaiety. The professional knows that he must act the gravity and trust that the author has injected gaiety into his plot and dialogue." The American Globe Theatre is a dynamic company, with the kind of vigor and polish that other troupes can only envy. It is to be hoped that their next production will not be a farce (both senses intended).