by Jeff Grygny
In C.S. Lewis’ famous space trilogy, a tiny band of the faithful invokes the angels of the spheres to combat satanic powers. When the angel of Mercury the ruler of speech descends, everyone bursts into great flights of dazzling wordplay. Clearly, David Ives has been communing with angels; there can be no other explanation for his exuberant play The Metromaniacs, now in production by Windfall Theatre. The man must have had supernatural aid in his project of making us laugh uncontrollably for two hours.
A very contemporary adaptation of the play Alexis Piron’s La Metromaine, literally “the poetry-crazed,” (it’s a little older than the Declaration of Independence, just to give some perspective), this script is a linguistic tour de force: a promiscuous coupling of modern slang and classical poetic terminology, containing every minute such delicious turns as “where verse is vice and vice-versa.” Ives captures the verbal acrobatics of very clever people in a fluffy farce depicting the antics of the literary elite, with a delirious plot as ornate as a rococo wedding cake, adding layer upon layer of deceptions, misunderstandings, false identities, and crossed purposes, building and building until even the characters confess themselves at a loss. Plus, he pulls it off in rhymed couplets that never reek of the thesaurus: if the rhymes strain, it’s for comic effect.
The plot would take nearly as long as the play itself to outline. Suffice to say it’s based on an allegedly historic incident in which the philosopher Voltaire fell in love with a lady poet who turned out to be the nomme de plume of one of his rivals—oops! In this play, the wealthy aristocrat Francalou has been writing under the name “Meriadec de Peauduncqville” (say it out loud) whose verses have captivated a young poet named Damis, whom Francalou despises, though he has never met him—at least, not under that name. Meanwhile, Francalou has penned a play in hopes of rousing his daughter Lucille out of her poetry-induced ennui, with his saucy maidservant Lisette wigged and gowned to look exactly like her.
And they’re off!
Director Carol Zippel has opted towards a cartoonish performance style, as if taking off from the Warner Brother’s Animaniacs, but her actors’ skills are such that when they come off as buffoonish, it’s because they want to (Hannah Klapperich-Mueller’s “sexy mouth” shtick, is worthy of Carol Burnett). For the most part, they successfully walk that tricky line between being funny and trying to be funny. Ben George (who could pass for Voltaire himself) brings a childlike glee to the role of Francalou; Joe Picchetti’s performance of Damis is almost Jim Carrey-like in its animation, adding inspired touches like standing on one leg to extemporize, or dabbing a quill into a special ink-ring he wears for writing on the fly. Susie Decker and Hannah Klapperich-Miller give equally charming, savvy comic performances; the unschooled but canny maid and the mistress lettered but naive. Chris Goode lurks around the corners as a besmitten swain out of his depth, and the whole cast tosses language around like a pro soccer team passing the ball. They make it look easy, and seem to be having a great time doing it.
There—I’ve made it all the way through without using the word “sparkling.” But make no mistake: the play sparkles like a freshly-poured glass of Blanquette de Limoux. And it’s not just because Amelia Strahan has lavished so much glittering brocade and paste gems on her actors that watching them move around is a virtual light show. No, the players seem to have entered an elevated state where love, poetry and intrigue rule as a trinity of mischievous angels.
In our arsenal of weaponry in the ongoing struggle against the darkness, we should never forget the power of a good laugh. But be warned— seeing this play may lead to an uncontrollable desire to speak in rhymed couplets.
Windfall Theatre presents
by David Ives
based on Alexis Piron’s La Metromanie
Playing through March 4
at Village Church Arts 130 East Juneau Avenue
Tickets $20 call 414-332-3963
or visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2837013