REVIEW: “The Metromaniacs”—comedic mania in verse
Calling all lovers of wordplay and verse—have I got a play for you. David Ives delivers yet another of his witty and hilarious 18th century French comedy “translaptations” (translation + adaptation) with the New York premiere of Alexis Piron’s “The Metromaniacs”, which opened tonight at Off-Broadway’s Red Bull Theatre in a limited run through May 26th.
This delicious romp is heady, frothy, and just downright fun, directed with genre-specific aplomb by Michael Kahn, and played by a terrific band of actors who are dead serious in dispensing their lighthearted frivolity.
Mr. Ives was drawn to this obscure play from 1738 by its title; in truth, so was I. Alexis Piron, I learned from the program, is a playwright lost to history, perhaps precisely because of “The Metromaniacs”, or as it was originally known: “Le Métromanie” (roughly “the poetry craze”).
Mr. Ives describes the play as “a comedy with five plots, none of them important”, but one of those plots involves an older, unappreciated male poet publishing poems under a female nom de plume that attracts a host of suitors, sight-unseen. It turns out to be a story pulled from the headlines of the day, as Volatire fell victim to a similar scheme. That Piron used it as fodder for a bawdy comedy with “amoral”, sex-driven characters likely resulted in his lifetime bar from membership in the all-important Académie Française, and subsequent slip into anonymity.
Thankfully, Mr. Ives has resurrected a fantastic piece of crowd pleasing classical theatre, “translaptating” it (I love that portmanteau) into a sharp and silly comedy that sleekly marries an antique form with an infusion of modern sensibility. I dare not deign to describe the plot in detail—which is largely beside the point as Mr. Ives concedes with acute self-awareness—but suffice it to say seven characters cross paths over the course of a day in the ballroom of an aristocrat-turned-poet’s home in Paris.
Love is in the air, as nearly each assumes a second and sometimes third identity, setting up for an inchoate play within a play that is to premiere by evening. As the absurd web they weave via deception and disguise gets thicker and thicker, this mania is heightened by Mr. Ives’ enchanting employment of verse. Every line of the play is delivered in rhyming couplet, which “raises the level” as he suggests, elevating the theatrical nature of the situation to epic proportions before it all comes crashing down in a happy ending.
Mr. Ives uses this long-abandoned form to provide a bounty of puns, forced rhymes, and anachronistic words and phrases that crash against the lovely, purposely overwrought 18th century costumes and set by Murell Horton and James Noone (think powdered wigs, wide-hipped gowns, busty cleavage, and gilded surroundings), and are the source for a nonstop barrage of laughter and charm. His facility with words is an endless joy, though the cleverness of it all can become rote by act two. Nevertheless, I grinned from ear to ear throughout, appreciating the craft and the felicity of its execution.
This is light fare, for sure, but with intelligence and erudition, like last season’s “The Liars” at Classic Stage Company. Mr. Ives proves, once again, that he is a master of this theatrical niche, which is manna for those who might consider themselves “metromaniacs”.
Bottom Line: David Ives “translaptates” another obscure, 18th century French comedy in “The Metromaniacs”. This delicious romp is heady, frothy, and just downright fun; never mind the convoluted plot, just sit back and enjoy the clever wordplay and witty verse. No one does it better. If you like to laugh, this play is for you.
Red Bull Theatre
at The Duke on 42nd Street
229 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
Running Time: one hour, 45 minutes (one intermission)
Opening Night: April 22, 2018
Final Performance: May 26, 2018