American adaptation of France's The Ladies Man is a magnum farce
Charles Morey adapted The Ladies Man from a farce by Feydeau — pretty loosely, by Morey's own account. In the original, Tailleur des Dames, the beleaguered protagonist is guilty of adultery; Morey, surmising that the more puritanical American audience wouldn't empathize with an adulterer, makes his hero the victim of a misunderstanding, which he, of course, amplifies through mild dishonesty and general goofiness. (I've often thought that had Bill Clinton been president of France, the Monica Lewinsky interlude would have cemented his popularity rather than hurt him.)
Dr. Hercule Molineaux is married to Yvonne, a woman twenty years younger than himself (something Americans apparently don't mind), and he finds himself unable to make love to her for a wonderfully trivial, silly and essentially affectionate reason. He does have thoughts of straying, though, and begins the process but then thinks better of it. This bumbling little lapse forces him to spend a night on a park bench in the rain, arousing Yvonne's suspicions, and ultimately setting up a chain of misunderstandings, identity confusions and sexual double entendres that involve an amiable patient with a pronounced lisp; Yvonne's gorgon of a mother; and a female patient who prances through the action, pops up at inopportune moments and courts both Hercule and danger, in the form of her large, jealous and short-tempered Prussian brute of a husband. Trying to keep order and sort things out is the cheeky male servant, Etienne, and there's also a saucy maid with a secret.
Morey has done a nice job of communicating Feydeau's wit and tone. He's also worked out a plot that moves faster and faster by the minute, one in which every piece must click into place as satisfactorily as a key turning in a well-oiled lock. The script is literate with lots of lip-smacking wordplay — so it's fortunate that the director of this Creede Repertory production is Nagle Jackson, whose translation of Cyrano de Bergerac at the Denver Center Theatre Company some years back revealed a passion for language and a high-level aptitude for rhyming and punning. In the director's notes for this show, Jackson explains that despite their eccentricities and the insane situations in which they find themselves, Feydeau's characters are real people, members of a recognizable Parisian bourgeoisie occupying lived-in family apartments. As a result, there's not a whole lot of frou-frou to the attractive set — though, this being farce, there are many, many doors. The casting is felicitous and true to Jackson's vision: Funny as they are, none of the performances devolves into caricature. Jessica Jackson is great as the lust-crazed Suzanne, and Laura Jo Trexler makes a charming and poutily strong-willed Yvonne. Etienne could have been the stereotypical cunning servant, but in the hands of Michael Bouchard, he becomes elfin and vulnerable. The production wouldn't be half as funny as it is, though, without John Arp as Hercule. The character may be a two-dimensional stage convention, but Arp makes him so cuddly and crazy, so teddy-bearish, that you find yourself rooting for him and hoping he'll find his way back to Yvonne's arms. And, once there, refrain from doing anything stupid.
The Ladies Man
Presented by Creede Repertory Theatre through October 31, Black Box Theatre, Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org.
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