July 15, 2009 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
Sometimes in the theatre the marvelous wonder happens, a talented young playwright, Julienne Hiam, writes a one-act play for an astute and sympathetic director, Sarah Taylor, to bring onto the stage six amazing characters, all played by the versatile Anne Undeland, who with great dexterity in accents, gestures, and quick costume changes, many risqué, designed by Govane Lohbauer, and the play gets staged in a setting, Carl Sprague, for which it was written, the small raised stage of the Gilded Age Museum in Ventfort Hall.
Which briefly sums up the glories of Paris 1890 Unlaced!, playing until September 6, 2009 at Ventfort Hall, the gilded gay-nineties mahogany mansion in Lenox, MA.
It is the perfect setting for the risqué, slightly naughty French farce of a time in Paris when prostitution was not only rampant but legal, and a successful, well-mannered courtesan could be invited to a ball given by the British wife of a Marquis who was bedding both her and the courtesan (and others) in the oh-la-la atmosphere of the times.
The play opens, however, in the room in which we the audience sit. There is a great banging from above as loud footsteps race back and forth, and the down staircase sweeps Undeland’s first character, a Sarah Palin-look-alike young woman (chatting on a cell-phone) but who abandons it to inform us, all suddenly members of the board, that two absolutely marvelous gifts to the museum (both unidentified) seem linked mysteriously.
One is a great gay Paree poster in which a dancer can-cans in a red dress. The second is what appears to be the red dress itself. Surely a trip to Paris is necessary to find out the story behind these marvelous and possibly valuable gifts to the museum collection.
And with no more ado, Undeland rips off her contemporary garb and stands before us in white bloomers and black corset, and we are in Paris in the 1890s and the farce begins.
During the next hour we quickly meet and hear from a delightful collection of women, each clearly defined, each suitably robed (or unrobed) and each filling in a part of the puzzle. They include Le Crème, an aging but astute and respected courtesan; La Virgin, a cheap young untalented dancer; Hattie, a staid and unruffled (but a bit resentful) wife of a French husband who sleeps with all Paris; Gertrud, an innocent in Paris young American girl; who encounters in a hat shop Gertrud, a gossipy milliner, who creates the most incredible hats one can imagine.
Each of these characters dons, not only quickly (on or off stage) clothing (or lack of it) but each has an absolutely delightful accent, be it rapid-fire French, cockney, correct Brit English, wide-eyed American, each suited to the occasion, at times hysterically funny, at others even poignant.
Undeland’s own delight in the characters she so ingeniously creates is a joy in itself. She slips out of each character and each costume with gaity and éclat.
While the plot is too racy for children to even understand or care for in the least, it and the costuming is innocent and delightful for adults of all ages.
As for the mystery, it is solved and should be left for each audience member to discover.