May 31 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall.
[singlepic=237,320,213,,left]Poor Dr. Hercule Molineaux (Jonathan Croy), the unheroic hero of Feydeux’s “The Ladies Man” now playing at Shakespeare and Co.’s Founders’ Theatre in Lenox, MA.
Not only must he grope his misguided ways in and out of the five doors (and one window) that are de rigueur in a French farce, but also through a situation that combines two Feydeux plots interwoven by translator Charles Morey. In doing so, Morey has devised one of the most boisterous, outrageous, slapstick plays to have ever graced the Founder’s stage
And there is Molineaux, innocent dupe buffeted by the seven other outrageous characters who comprise the talented cast who lurk behind, leap out of or swoop into those five doors at break-neck, but choreographed, speed. Outrageous French accents, guttural German declarations, even a patient who lisps and who likes to play doctor!
And the poor man is innocent, not the adulterer French farces so often employ. His sin is only his temporary unmanned state that has left his beautiful young bride still a virgin and has resulted in their occupying separate bedrooms behind two of the doors.
Bassinet (Michael Toomey) the lisper, practically moves into the door to the dispensary where he dons so much medical equipment he can be, and is mistaken for, the doctor himself, a role he gladly and gleefully assumes.
Madame Aigreville (Annette Miller), mother of the shunned bride, is so awesome she is nick-named Medusa, wears huge snake-bedecked hat, and usually erupts threateningly through double doors up center accompanied by music. Miller plays her to the hilt creating a character who, trying to defend her daughter, strikes terror, living up to her aggravating name. The way she swirls a cape displays her great gift for characterization.
Yvonne (Julie Webster) is properly petulant and beautiful as the rejected bride and has her husband so intimated by her attitude that he has spent a night in the rain on a park bench, not philandering as she would suspect, but trying to find a way out of his sexual dilemma.
Two servants, the maid (Caley Milliken) and the butler (Etienne – Dave Demke) manage to invade the plot, and the doors, and get interwoven in the shenanigans more often and more deeply than minor characters have any right to usually. Demke, especially, proves agile and inventive.
Walton Wilson provides a threatening but hysterically funny presence as the German husband of Suzanne Aubin who turns out to be the Leading Lady.
[singlepic=238,200,300,,right]And that leading lady is Elizabeth Aspenlieder who, as trollop deluxe, steals the show. The poor doctor has become involved with her—but only hoping, in a dumb misguided way, to find a way out of his impotency problem. He was playing with fire. The woman is agile in ways that keep the audience roaring, and her agility is fortunately garbed (by Govane Lohbauer) in Victorian finery that elegantly displays bloomers and bosom in hysterically funny, rather than in shockingly indecent, moments. She is boisterous, beguiling and insistent – absolutely wonderful.
As is our poor doctor, Croy, who is at his gleeful best in her presence, his agility matching hers. An equally awesome performance and a demanding one since he is on stage in almost every scene, coping with all those doors and all the people erupting from them, all seemingly intent on embroiling him in their lives. Had the poor man understood the significance of one French word worrying him in Act I, he would have avoided all his problems.
Acts I and III take place in the living room of the doctor; Act II takes us away to a boutique, also with five doors, at which, for various reasons, all eight cast members converge. While the entire play is a gem, the second act steals its own show. It is so hysterically wild and ends on such determined applause it could almost end the play..
Of course I does not. The play has to sort out, as best it can, all the tangled relationships of what has gone on before. It does, as best it can, plotless as it all has been. As an audience member one can be gleeful and not regret the fact that in Act I many of the witty double-entr’ lines one missed because the audience was roaring over the one that preceded it.
Kevin Coleman and his actors are having a ball bringing you this play. They want you to like it and them and you do. The entire cast is flamboyant and talented .The play is outrageously boisterous and bawdy but needs no x rating. It is almost a family play. Youngsters would adore the slapstick played at double tempo and the double-entr’ word play should go breezily over their heads.
In this “summer of our discontent” over elections, oil prices and other worldly woes, it is fun for an evening to watch the joyous cavorting on the Founders’ stage.
(Photos by Kevin Sprague, courtesy Shakespeare and Co.)