Looking for a Good Time? 'The Heir Apparent' Puts on a Show
They should plant those old barkers they used to have near San Francisco topless bars and bordellos whispering the pointed come-on “Looking for a good time?” in front of the Lansburgh Theatre these days.
So: “Looking for a good time?”
“The Heir Apparent,” now at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre, is the reason everyone should go to the theatre as opposed to 50 critics and selected friends of the house and board.
The play, which is the opener for the company’s 25th anniversary, is the work of 16th-century French playwright Jean-Francois Regnard, who wrote it in 1708. It’s also a world premiere, the reason for which you can entirely blame and praise adapter/translator and rhymer extraordinaire David Ives, who has been having quite a time in Washington and elsewhere this year.
Ives has taken this somewhat musty, obscure comedy which has its roots in the genius-level works of Moliere as well as English restoration comedy, shaken off the dust, and re-written the text in iambic pentameter (I think) and certainly pedantic rhyme with a touch of burlesque, comedy and Catskills drollery thrown in. It’s no small measure of Ives’s considerable gifts that it’s not too difficult to imagine John Gielgud and Buddy Hackett working side by side in this production. The superb cast jumps on the rhymes like Chinese acrobats shot out of a cannon.
Ives did something similar last year at the Shakespeare Theatre play with an adaptation-re-arrangement and re-do of “The Liar,” for which he won a Helen Hayes Award for outstanding new play. With his work in “The Heir Apparent,” you know for sure that everything old is new again, especially Floyd King’s Geronte, a monstrously funny creation and capstone to King’s career as a classical theatre comic royalty.
Ives has transfixed critics to the point where they want to turn into rhymers themselves. I refuse to stoop so low as to rhyme before my time.
That being said, “The Heir Apparent” is a hoot, hewing to the traditions of both Moliere in his most sarcastic and preposterous laugh-machine period, and the wonderful excesses of Sheridanian (is that the word, my lord?) and Goldsmithian restoration comedy.
In short, there is mincing and messing around, vulgarity aplenty and lechery of the sort, where old men drool while young women breathe heavily in their not-quite-right-sized bodices, and much brainless skullduggery helped by the servant class.
Michael Kahn directs here, and he moves things along with such reckless timing and all-in gusto that you have to remind yourself that Kahn is not known for his splapdash comedy shows and has never been on Saturday Night Live.
But the highlight of the evening—all right, one of the highlights—is when the would-be heirs try to eliminate far-flung cousins with the appearance of not one, but three female pig farmers, big and pink as a pig’s snout, bearing gifts of bacon and pork, and that’s something you haven’t seen on a Washington stage, at least not for real.
Ives and Kahn have a wonderful cast to pull off a rousing comedic miracle, especially King, who outdoes himself as Geronte, whom we first see in raggedy old clothes, a stringy wig and a nightcap which no one but the dead should wear. Geronte scuffles on as a phlegmatic apparition, a living cough who talks mostly about money and bowel movements before he lets on that he wants to marry Isabelle (Meg Chambers Steedle), the young woman his nephew is in love with.
This leaves the charmingly inept but very cool nephew Eraste (played with breathless aplomb by Andrew Veenstra) speechless and sets the servants Lisette (Kelly Hutchinson) and Crispin (Carson Elrod), a frend of Eraste, to scheming nonstop because they know Geronte is worth a million, a million, as they remind themselves with grand goofiness.
Nancy Robinette is also on hand as Madame Argante, one of those greedy aristocrats who walks in billowy dresses as if fighting a headwind, and Clark Middleton has a nice turn as the lawyer Scruple who is height deprived, or, in short, short.
“The Heir Apparent” is such grand entertainment - the set is deliciously detailed and lacks only a dozen doors that should be slamming - that you forget the price immediately because you get your money’s worth.
Looking for a good time? Go see “The Heir Apparent,” running through Oct. 23.