As he did with Corneille’s The Liar a few years back, playwright David Ives once again works his theatrical magique on a centuries-old comédie française in The Heir Apparent, Ives’ 2014 off-Broadway adaptation of Jean-François Regnard’s 1706 farcical French bonbon Le Légataire Universelle, now delighting audiences in its Los Angeles Premiere at Long Beach’s International City Theatre.
Wallace Angus Bruce stars as handsome young man-about-town Eraste, whose hopes of marrying la belle Isabelle (Suzanne Jolie Narbonne) depend on his ability to persuade his wealthy uncle Geronte (Matthew Henerson) to forget about bequeathing his ample fortune to some distant relative and get it into his thick tête that charity can and should begin much closer to home. (It would help too if Uncle Geronte didn’t have his own eye set on Isabelle.)
Fortunately, Eraste has in his employ the wily Crispin (Adam J. Smith), who with the aid of Crispin’s main squeeze—and fellow servant—Lisette (Paige Lindsey White), will do anything in his power to secure his master’s bonheur, even if that means showing off some hairy cleavage in female drag as the abovementioned distant relative.
Completing The Heir Apparent’s colorful cast of characters are Lisette’s battleaxe mère Madam Argante (Rebecca Spencer) and a short, make that très très short lawyer named Scruple (Adam von Almen).
In addition to maintaining Regnard’s original plot, playwright Ives preserves the era’s rhyming-couplet style, though it’s clear from the get-go that this “translaptation” (the word coinage is his) will take considerable liberties when converting 18th-Century French to 21st Century English.
Take for example Geronte’s reaction to the high cost of early-1700s medical care: “It’s criminal! Extortion past endurance! Of course if we had national health insurance.” Or his rhyming “venomous” with “enemas.” Or best of all, Lisette’s description of her ideal man: “A hundred fifty pounds and tightly assed. Someone remarkably like young Eraste.”
Ives’ silly, clever, contemporary-flavored take on Regnard’s three-century-old French soufflé could not be more délicieux, particularly in the inspired directorial hands of Troubadour Theater Company head honcho Matt Walker, who takes Ives’ already hilarious script and bumps up the comedy quotient again and again.
Throwaway lines like “Crispin, since when are you an early riser?” and “Today you’re Paris’s most happy fella!” earn bonus laughs thanks to Walker’s Troubies-tested genius, with special snaps to sound designer Mark McClain Wilson’s Looney Toons-ready whistles, boings, and bells.
Performances could not be more sparkling, from Bruce’s dashing Eraste to Smith’s crafty Crispin to White’s charming Lisette to Narbonne’s saucy Isabelle to Henerson’s befuddled Geronte to Spencer’s imperious Madame Argante. Scene-stealingest of all is von Almen’s outrageously funny Scruple, whose sideways walk had me in stitches every time the red-wigged pint-sized lawyer sashayed left or right.
The Heir Apparent looks superbe thanks to scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo’s elegant Louis XIV-era set, resident properties designers Patty, Gordon, and Christopher Briles’ array of period props, resident hair-and-wig designer Anthony Gagliardi’s historical dos, and resident costume designer Kim DeShazo’s gorgeous 18th-century costumes (with special snaps to a trio of matching pink frocks and to Scruple’s half-sized lawyer’s robes). Add to that Jeremy Pivnick’s vivid lighting design and McClain’s frothy musical underscoring and you’ve got another perfectly mérveilleux ICT production design.
Tyler King is assistant director. Darla Murphey is assistant costume designer. Pat Loeb is stage manager and Ian Phillips assistant stage manager. Michael Donovan, CSA, is resident casting director and Richie Ferris casting associate.
Sandwiched between the dramatic duo of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Abigail/1702 and the upcoming August Wilson’s Fences, David Ives’ The Heir Apparent makes for a parfaitement delightful early-summer programming choice for Artistic Director caryn desai’s International City Theatre.
For fabulous French farce this June and July, there’s no place like ICT.
International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.
June 19, 2105
Photos: Suzanne Mapes