“A metromaniac?” someone on the Old Globe stage asks. “Crazy for subways?”
No, but that makes as much sense as the rest of this show. The Metromaniacs are sort of obsessive poetry addicts, like maybe our hip-hop stars. And their frolics proved a big hit in Washington, D.C., last year at this time. The Globe has imported the show, seemingly intact, as a sorbet to clear the palate for 2016.
The term is genuine antique usage from 1738 Paris, attached by Alexis Piron to his scurrilous farce La Metromanie, the kernel of all this corn. Never heard of Piron? I know the feeling. David Ives, the translator and adaptor, had to track him down too, armed only with that intriguing title. Piron never made the all-stars, at least partly, Ives suggests in a program note, because one of his better-known poems was Ode to the Penis.
To say that Ives played fast and lose with Piton is like declaring King Kong to be hairy. In that program note, Ives notes that the original is, “…a comedy with five plots, none of them important.” The most novel idea employed is the hidden identity of the widely admired rustic maiden poetess whose verses actually are trifles dashed off by an aged rich guy primarily laboring on an epic poem about Bucephalus, the Emperor Alexander’s horse. Otherwise, it’s all bits and pieces borrowed from the commedia dell arte’ trunk and armed with something like the 12-syllable rhyming couplets called Alexandrines, so beloved by the French.
Everybody has a bacchanalia with this thing: Ives, the distinguished director Michael Kahn, the actors, the designers, probably even the dressers and the janitors and certainly the audience There’s a definite fragrance in the air of “If it works, leave it in.” Ives’ rhyming demons take the word “incognito,” not unknown in farce, and pair it with “libido,” “torpedo” and eventually “mosquito,” all without stumbling. Actors find bits of shtick and stick with them, regardless of context. Does the script require forest scenery in the ballroom for homegrown theatrics? Set-designer James Noone complies with a child’s garden of imagination. Knowing everybody will be wearing high heels, costumer Murell Horton fitted them out with tight outfits that emphasize all the leggy pluses and minuses.
It’s Kahn who has the most fun. Even if he didn’t invent every twitch, he granted license to the long-distance slap, which can knock a guy cockeyed clear across the stage; the high-heeled prance; the sliding scenery; the fishlips of passion, hard to describe but catchy. And his sure sense of cliché keeps whipped cream spurting and the candy cotton whirling.
The roles have names that sound like startup logos. Damis is a wastrel poet dodging the uncle who writes his checks and Dorante is a dogged jock chasing the daughter of the house despite his lack of versing skills. Christian Conn and Cary Donaldson play the parts in that order but with so little individuality that they could switch merely by trading off the horn-rimmed specs. Adam LeFevre plays Francalou, the daddy, like an aged teddy bear pondering the romantic potential of being visualized as a tootsie. And Peter Kybart must switch attitude easy and often as Baliveau, the elderly uncle endlessly addressed as “bouillabaisse.”
Michael Goldstrom plays with requisite gusto the Harlequin-like servant who gets the majority of the sexual action with less plot-fixing duties than usual. But it’s the girls who are lavish: Amelia Pedlow as the languid love interest dreaming of landing a poet and Dina Thomas, the soubrette maid all tiny, twinkling ankles and monumental bosom.
These characters were ancient when Shakespeare borrowed them and here, half way between Moliere and Napoleon, they show the wear and tear of long, indolent overuse.
They’re ripe for that Revolution that’s coming.
To fully appreciate how skillfully The Metromaniacs has been put together, take time some day to stroll a couple of blocks east of the Globe to the Timken Museum and check out their little Watteau and their giant, luxurious Boucher. That’s what was going on back then.
Continues in the Old Globe Theatre at 7 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; and at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through March 6, 2016.