LA ZIZANIE AU CONSULAT (Mayhem At The Consulate)

The laughter has a distinctively Gallic flavor to it in Euro-Theatre’s production of La Zizanie Au Consulat (Mayhem At The Consulate), Jean-Louis Darville’s World Premiere French-language screwball comedy, debuting tonight at Hollywood’s Assistance League Theatre. Though last night’s preview seemed technically quite a ways from being ready for Opening Night, the English-subtitled* farce had this French-speaking reviewer laughing from start to finish, thanks to Darville’s silly but très amusant script and all-around sparkling performances from its cast of ten native French speakers.

399179_10151132171436862_1086268792_n The play’s opening sequence sets its farcical tone and introduces La Zizanie’s central conceit. A scandal at the French Consulate in Chicago (they’ve been selling French passports to American drug dealers) means that all ten French Consulates in the U.S. are to be inspected, news which hardly sits well with the Los Angeles Consulate staff, a ragtag bunch of diplomatic employees if there ever was one.

These include staffers Corinne (Lisa Forté), Veronique (Maude Bonanni), Zoé (Claire Dodin), Marc (Tristan Convert), Marie-Opportune (Gladys Nyoth), Murielle (Caroline Guivarch), and Gabriel (Frederik Hamel), each one in charge of a different aspect of consulate life, from visas to passports to office security, but none of whom seems particularly ready for the arrival of Inspecteur Général Alain Borniac (Darville, who also directs). Even less prepared are Consul Général Guy Melba (Charles Fathy) and his secretary Laurent (Jeremy Tomas), who when alerted to the inspector’s imminent visit, show up at the consulate still dressed in drag from last night’s Halloween celebration.

156269_10151132172376862_853881452_n The general mayhem which greets Inspector Borniac upon his arrival soon gets jotted down in his little red book, with dire consequences on the way for all unless a blackmail video can be shot of Borniac having his way with “Olga” (Laurent in high heels, torn fishnet stockings, miniskirt, and big bouffant bleached blonde wig), the “Russian maid” who caught the inspector’s eye before the amateur drag queen had the chance to change back into his normal male attire.

Despite considerable unplanned mayhem last night (scenery that took way too long to assemble and reassemble, missing props that had to be mimed, subtitles that were often out of sync, etc.) and an overlong 2½-hour-plus running time, the entire cast deliver delightfully offbeat comedic performances, and not merely in their main roles.

20720_10151132172471862_1768507465_n Both acts feature hilarious cameos from cast members doubling as assorted daily consulate visitors, among them a father who brings his son to the consulate in order to administer some corporal punishment, this being French soil where such things are not forbidden; a very pregnant American who wants to give birth in France, that is if she can hold off having the baby till her arrival; a recently naturalized American who wishes to renounce his French citizenship, the better to change an unfortunate last name to the far less embarrassing Washington; and a curvaceous blonde who gets a personal body search by security guard Gabriel because, she is told, the metal detector is out of order.  (As if.)

Darville’s distinctly French script (both in language and flair) could use at least fifteen minutes of trimming (and the excising of a few words offensive to gay audience members), but the laughs it inspires come fast and furious, and it’s obvious that its very talented cast are having a ball performing in their native tongue.

68678_10151132172351862_10993619_n Also in need of improvement is the production’s unwieldy scenic design (by Jelo, Oscar Rauda, and cast member Couvert), one which depends on multiple panels being moved here and there and back again … and again … and again. Todd Kramer’s lighting does the job, though it’s pretty much lights up, lights down. Rosalinda Medina deserves high marks for the cast’s multiple costumes, with special snaps for those worn in cameo roles. Cast member Tomas doubles effectively as sound designer. The masks worn in the play’s opening sequence are Jelo’s clever designs. Yolanda Gilot has done an excellent job translating Darville’s script for audience members in need of subtitles.

Jon Kellam voices a couple of unseen characters. Jordan Beder is assistant director and Coralie Sançois is second assistant director. Thea Stevenson is stage manager. Others receiving program credit include Charles Lecoanet, Floren Eric Paredes, and Constanza Bade.

La Zizanie Au Consulat is produced by David Hini-Szlos and Darville.

18692_10151132172046862_262041486_n Despite problems caused by a scenic design where simpler would have been better, the mere fact that a French language play is actually being staged in Los Angeles is reason enough to rejoice in its brief Thursday-to-Sunday run, a rare treat for French speakers (native and second-language) living in Los Angeles, and for those studying the language in high school or college.

Je me suis bien amusé at La Zizanie Au Consulat. My guess is that others, be they Francophones or merely fans of things French, will have un très bon temps as well.

Assistance League Theatre, 1370 North St. Andrews Place, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
December 12, 2012

*The more appropriate term would be supertitled, since English translations are projected above the action.

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