The Ladies Man by Charles Morey, freely adapted and translated from Georges Feydeau’s Tailleur pour Dames. Directed by Kevin G. Coleman.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"It all began with tigre, tigre."
To paraphrase Stephen Sondheim - "when you’re a farce you’re a farce all the way..." The latest Shakespeare & Company offering in the farcical line is one that uses all of the elements of good comic theater including the necessary five doors (added here are two side entrances and a window), the manic mother-in-law, wicked servants, a sexually frustrated pair of women and a man who is the victim of all of their imaginative lusts and furies. Feydeau was the master of the form. Playwright Charles Morey has adapted two classic farces by the French master and created a play that is hysterical from the moment the lights come up and leads to a frenzied can-can in which the remarkable Annette Miller kicks up her high heels along with the other three women in the show, proving once and for all that there is little she cannot do with style and aplomb.
Kevin Coleman, a director who has a flair for these things, makes the most of his opportunties here. He utilizes the five doors with flair. He moves his cast in and out of them with a gracefulness that will certainly translate itself into enormous comic proportions as the company plays with their instant entrances, timing them to ridiculous perfection. At the opening night performance most of this was in place, but a few tweaks - something that Elizabeth Aspenlieder’s character likes to inflict on her men - will bring that sought for result.
Aspenlieder is certainly hitting her stride in these comedies. She has a delicious set of contrasts to work with. She has the sweet, baby-face beauty that allows her to play romantic moments and the physical freedom to become the aggressive, man-hungry she-animal. She knows how to combine these things into a seamless characterization of a woman who wants what she wants and will get it no matter what she has to do to achieve that success. From her first entrance she is funny. Here is a woman who wants to have an affair, but always brings her husband along for the dangerous psychological state that provides. Somehow Aspenlieder makes that rationale seem logical.
Jonathan Croy as Dr. Hercule Molineaux is her intended victim. He deadpans brilliantly. His face never betrays his feelings, unless he wants us to see them. This works to the advantage of his character, especially when he speaks of his wife and her pet name for him. Here we see the inner man and the hidden reaction that has accidentally set in motion all of the bizarre elements of the plot. Croy knows how to catch a flying, spread-eagled woman and how to engage a strong, wilfull man. He gets to use all of his considerable skills and talents in this role.
His friend, patient and confidante who incidentally sends the players to what may be the best disguised brothel in Paris, is played by Michael F. Toomey. As Bassinet he lisps and plays dress-up and carries forward his need to disclose secrets with a delectable joy. Dave Demke plays Etienne, the servant with his own secrets, in as broadly comic a style as possible, remarkably "three stooges-esque" in fact. One of his best performances to date, in this part he takes over the stage on occasion, no matter who else is there.
Walton Wilson plays a Prussian whose jealousy - he insists he will catch his wife "in fragrant delight" - and violent intent knows no bounds until he drinks a "French drink" and becomes as confused as the rest of the participants, including the maid, Marie, played nicely by Caley Milliken. Her final appearance brings about miracle cures and muddled secrets.
Julie Webster is fine as the "straight man" the others play off. She is the wife of Dr. Molineaux and it is her certainty that her new husband is already cheating on her that really get the plot going, especially when she brings her mother into the picture. That mother is the character played by Annette Miller. And Miller is the comic lynch-pin of this production. A gorgon, referred to as Medusa, she has been given spectacular entrances, a costume that kills, designed by Govane Lohbauer, and music and lights that make her sudden appearances both thrilling and silly simultaneously.
In the second act there is confusion about everyone’s identity but hers is the topper. Being fitted for a riding outfit, she becomes alternately a Queen, a dominatrix, a procurer and a Madame, all while simply maintaining her identity as the mother of a betrayed young wife. There is nothing funnier than this sequence.
Carl Sprague’s ingeniously clever set makes changes as much fun to watch as the play itself. Les Dickert’s lighting is fine, if a bit dark at moments, and Michael Pfeiffer has made sound as much a character as any on stage.
The three acts of this play have been transformed into just two acts and the running time is just about two and a half hours, but the time does really fly by when you’re having this much fun.
Annette Miller as Mme. Aigreville; photo: Kevin Sprague
Michael F. Toomey and Jonathan Croy; photo: Kevin Sprague
Elizabeth Aspenlieder as Suzanne Aubin; photo: Kevin Sprague
The Ladies Man plays in repertory at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA through August 31. Tickets range from $15 - $60. For schedule and reservations call the box office at 413-637-3353 or go to email@example.com.