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David Ives, a 21st-century playwright (All in the Timing, Venus in Fur) discovered the comedic 18th-century play La Metromanie and made it his own, turning this play-in-French-verse into a riotous modern comedy in rhyming couplets. Not only did Ives match Alexis Piron's verse line by line, but he also added his very own 21st-century anachronisms; i.e. Piron could never have suggested that La Metromanie was a play about the love of the subway. In a fresh-faced farce that has all the trappings – mistaken identity, incognito characters, absurd situations, and matrimonial endings – Ives’ The Metromanics (currently being produced by Honest Pint Theatre Company) turns this 18th century giggle into a 21st-century guffaw, with hilarity hidden in every line and everyone being someone other than he or she actually is.
In a compactness that is brilliant, The Metromaniacs is limited to seven players, despite the insinuation that there of dozens of guests at this wealthy aristocrat's Paris soiree. In nearly every case, each character is trying hard to be someone else; in at least one case, more than one! The breakdown goes something like this: There is our host, Francalou (Rob Jenkins) (a.k.a. Mariadec, a renowned poetess from Breton); Damis (Aaron Alderman) (a.k.a. Cosmo de Cosmos, a.k.a. Bouillabaisse); Damis' valet, Mondor (Gus Allen) (a.k.a. Damis, and our Narrator); Dorante, the junior (Sean A. Brosnahan) (a.k.a. Ersatz, an actor); Baliveaux (John Rogers Harris), who disguises himself as an actor; Lizette, Francalou's maid (a.k.a. Lucille, her master's daughter); and finally, Lucille herself, (played with panache by Tara Nicole Williams) the only person here who feels it unnecessary to be someone else!
Now, as to Metromania: the term means an overfondness for verse, a condition from which Lucille suffers. Damis, who is a poet himself, has come to Paris to meet his goddess, Mariadec, who (it is rumored) is in attendance at this soiree. But he also has yet another iron in the fire, if you will. He is the author of a play to be presented in Paris this week, The Talking Flute, which he has penned under the name Bouillabaisse. The soiree's host, Francalou, is a poet wannabe, and has written his own play, which he hopes to present as an entertainment for his guests, but everyone knows Francalou is a lousy poet and they conspire to keep him mum on the subject. The play is a seven-act tragedy on the death of Eucephalus, who is actually a horse, a "noble steed" groomed for battle, yes, but a horse, nonetheless.
The soiree is designed to find Lucille a suitor, and there are many. While you mightn't call Lucille a stunning beauty, she is nonetheless the daughter of an aristocrat, and, as such, she garners a slew of swains. One of those swains, Dorante (the Junior), wishes to win her through his ability with verse, which is sure to win her over. He is hobbled, sadly, by the fact that he is by no means a poet of any stripe, and he contrives to steal a poem from the poetical journal Parnassis – a copy of which is circulating at the party – and pass it off as his own. He then has it forwarded to Lucille, with the desired effect. However, Dorante, Jr. is the only son of Dorante, Sr. and that gentleman is the sworn enemy of our host, Francalou. It is our host's relationship with his father that causes Dorante to assume his nom de coeur, Ersatz.
The last complication in this miasma is the one between Damis and his "uncle," a wealthy judge who has only recently learned that Damis took his money, given to him so he might pursue a career in the Law, and "frittered it away" on becoming, instead, a poet. The judge has thus brought himself to Paris to straighten the boy out, or else get a warrant for his arrest as an extortionist. Judge Balivaux was ably played by John Rogers Harris.
Now, those among us with an ear for it will immediately note that this entire play is written in rhyming couplets, but even for those with a tin ear, Mondor tells us this in the opening scene, so you may not pretend otherwise! The fact that it is possible for anyone to mistake this is a feather in the collective cap of this cast, who do their durnedest to see to it that this dialogue falls not into the sing-song of bad verse. The verbal hijinx of this rhyme scheme, however, is quite the point, because it is the turn of phrase which makes this giggle a guffaw. We find we must very much be on our toes, because the laughs come thick and fast, and if you cannot keep up, you will be lost.
The play has but one set, which is the forest scene in which the seven-act embarrassment shall be played. This is not the only play-within-a-play, however; recall Bouillabaisse's The Talking Flute. We do "experience" this play, but only through the reactions of its author as the "play" unfolds. While the cast neatly and efficiently sets down the "footlights," in the form of candles on silver trays, there is not an actor on set as Damis comments on the "action" from the first row of the house. The audience seems quite taken with it; however, in true comedic fashion, other members of the cast conspire to make it a critical flop, rendering Damis' expected windfall nonexistent.
The entire affair is neatly arranged into marriages, as are all 18th century comedies; Mondor wins Lizette, Dorante wins Lucille, etc., etc. Our only odd man out is the Judge, who is himself satisfied with foiling Bouillabaisse, the nom de guerre of Damis and the brunt of the judge's wrath. So all’s well that ends well.
This ensemble troupe gave it their all in bringing this brimming poetic farce to a fine and fit finale, and directors David Henderson and Susannah Hough, the co-artistic directors of Honest Pint, are to be congratulated on guiding this high-flying, phonetic free-for-all to a stunning three-point landing. Superb costumes and wigs by Shiela Hyatt Cox place the time beautifully for us, and the complicated, integral set is nicely tricked out with everything – including a plastic flamingo! A salute, then, to lighting and technical consultant Thomas Mauny.
Honest Pint Theatre has recreated David Ives’ savage slapstick with an eye on hilarity, and the result is all we might wish it to be. This is a clever and bombastic tour-de-force that brings laughter with every line. Where else might one find not one but two plays-within-the-play, a duel, no end to chicanery and hidden identities, and a fine and well-drawn conclusion that sorts everything out. A nuttier confection you might not find this whole season. Grab your family and friends and get on over to North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, where Honest Pint brings us The Metromaniacs!
The Metromaniacs continues through Sunday, September 29. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.