Sean Childress & Cristina Martin in The Ladies Man. Photo courtesy Martin French.
The Ladies Man
By Charles Morey
Directed by Martin French
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Georges Feydeau was a French playwright who, if he didn’t exactly create the comedy form of farce, certainly built the schematic foundation for every comedy of misunderstanding that ever followed. The Ladies Man is an adaptation of his 1886 play Tailleur pour dames, and is a maddening example of the kind of plotting where, if two people would simply stop and listen to one another instead of jumping to conclusions, the whole thing would fall apart. For Feydeau, such nonsensical machinations were a new art, a Rube Goldberg contraption masquerading as a narrative on a stage. Today, we can see the residual effect in every bad sitcom on television, the endless excuses for bad writing by calling it “farce.”
Historically, this places him as a key figure in the rise of absurdist theatre that followed. In Belle Époque Paris, the recently married Dr. Hercule Molineaux (Sean Childress) has spent the night not at home but sleeping on a park bench in the pouring rain. His wife Yvonne (Erin Engstrom) is suspicious, and his valet, Etienne’s (Andrew McGill) ineffective efforts to cover only spur her on. One of his patients, the clownish Bassinet (Drew Spurrier), arrives, followed shortly by Yvonne’s domineering mother, Madame Aigerville (Cristina Martin). Top it off with Suzanne (Shannon Leonard), a woman enamored of the doctor who inexplicably brings her jealous Prussian husband, Herr Aubin (George Robert Bailey) when attempting a romantic liaison.
The key to making all of this silliness work is in the playing, and balancing a dizzying pace with interjected notes of humanity. Molineaux seems to genuinely love his wife, so we root for him to sort things out if all of these other ridiculous people would go away. So this is contrivance and chaos for the sake of disorder. We should be laughing even when it seems stupid.
Sometimes it just comes off as stupid. Director Martin French’s cast works so hard, flying in and out of the five doorways with fierce, exhausting agility. Rapid exit and entrances are as essential to Feydeau as profanity is to David Mamet, and credit to the construction crew that the set never falters from all the slamming of doors. But the results are mixed.
Farce can feel strained, and there is a light touch missing from much of the action that occludes the necessary balance. The players mostly find the precision but not enough of the humanity, and good farce requires a heart. We see it in Molineaux because Sean Childress lets us see the exhaustion of the character from the start. Besides reconciliation with Yvonne, what he needs most is a good night’s sleep. George Robert Bailey also finds the innocence of Aubin, the child within the imposing military figure brandishing a sword. Cristina Martin discovers a degree of vulnerability even in the imperious Madame Aigerville, moving past the easy cliché of the monstrous mother-in-law.
I found Drew Spurrier’s Bassinet a well-conceived but overplayed Feydeau clown – there is a bit of business concerning his over-emphatic pronunciation of “Moulin Rouge” that quickly grew tiresome, but Mr. Spurrier has a solid foundation in place if he would reign it in a bit. Andrew McGill has enough of a wicked gleam in his eye as Etienne to illustrate he understands more than he is willing to let on. Erin Engstrom and Shannon Leonard are loyal to the energy required for the piece but assay their characters too earnestly for Feydeau. Katie Hay is given little to do as Yvonne’s maid, Marie, but manages it cheerfully.
An amusing array of accordion renditions of American pop songs was an inspired choice for transition music, while costumes range from serviceable to outrageous.
The Ladies Man
September 15, 16, 22, 23, & 24 at 7:30pm
September 17 & 24 at 2:00pm
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, Kentucky 400
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.