About half way through Act I of this fizzy froth about a decaying old miser and the conniving hangers-on angling for his fortune, a rather adorable baby pig is pulled from a canvas bag, and with it the first audible squeals of the evening.
Along with the visual delight, Hamlette’s appearance gives Ives the opportunity to rhyme “gaucher” with “kosher,” and though I could hear it coming a mile away, it still made me laugh.
Ives is a theater polymath whose head-tripping “Venus in Fur” begins performances on Broadway next month. He writes deft comedies, searching dramas (“New Jerusalem”) and adaptations of French farce like his “School for Lies,” which julienned Moliere with his verbal mandoline.
The source here is a lesser known farceur, Jean-Francois Regnard. The jokes rely heavily on the digestive tract, the use of breasts as doorknobs, and the stature-challenged.
Not for Ives the soigne elegance of David Hirson’s reinvented alexandrines in “La Bete.”
Ives loves anachronism, so you’ll hear references to Cadillacs and Godzilla, along with frequent use of the word “slash.” And what can you say about a poet who rhymes “salon” with “arrondissement” in a play written entirely in rhyming couplets?
Well, that it’s hit or miss, with plenty of both in Michael Kahn’s strenuously zany production. Floyd King is appealingly crotchety as the misanthropic Geronte, as is Nancy Robinette as the dowager Madame Argante, whose daughter Isabelle (Meg Chambers Steedle) hopes to marry Geronte’s nephew Eraste (Andrew Veenstra).
Eraste’s servant Crispin is in love with Geronte’s maid Lisette (Kelly Hutchinson). As convention dictates, the servants outwit and outsmart the masters. Carson Elrod’s manic Crispin dominates the show, impersonating Geronte when a diminutive lawyer (Clark Middleton) comes to draft his will.
Alexander Dodge has provided a gorgeous salon set, with high columns, expensive-looking, autumn-hued faux-marbling and a giant cuckoo clock whose true purpose I also saw a mile off -- and I can be a dolt about such things.
Murell Horton probably found heaven designing the costumes, which look straight out of Marie Antoinette’s armoires.
Through October 23 at the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St. NW. Information: +1-202-547-1122; http://www.shakespearetheatre.org. Rating: ***
Before or after the show, have drinks and tapas -- the mini paella simplified with shrimp, mussels and rice, and tiny fritatas were outstanding -- up the block at Jaleo. 480 7th St. NW; +1-202-628-7949).
Opening tonight on its mainstage, the Sidney Harman Theatre (610 F St. NW), the Shakespeare Theatre kicks off its 25th anniversary season with ‘Fela!’ the sexy, hyperkinetic musical biography of Afrobeat founder and social activist Fela Kuti. Staged and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, the show stars the astonishing Sahr Ngaujah in the title role. (The production will continue a national tour when this run ends on Oc. 9.) Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Do Not Miss *** Excellent ** Good * So-So (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.