When the curtain came down on Centenary Stage Company's production of Georges Feydeau's classic French farce, The Ladies Man, my theater companion turned to me and said, "Will you have enough superlatives to describe this show in your review?" I thought for a moment and then realized that I did not! If I use every one of those I want to, I'd run the risk of being repetitive—and boring. (Left, L-R: Robert Anthony Jones, Colin Ryan, Alycia Kunkle, Ashley Kowzun [(back], Jacklyn Ingoglia [back], Allen Lewis Rickman, Carl Wallnau)
So suffice it to say that The Ladies Man will have you splitting your sides with laughter at the nutty dialogue, zany shenanigans, the slamming doors (a basic component of farce), lots of sexual innuendos and double entendres, a battle-ax of a mother, a sweet young wife, impudent servants, a doofus of a friend and a man who tells one teeny-tiny fib that snowballs into an avalanche of lies.
If that sounds like George Street Playhouse's The Fox on the Fairway (2010) or Paper Mill Playhouse's recent Boeing-Boeing, it should, for Feydeau was the originator of the theatrical genre upon which these two plays are based.
What, pray tell, is the "little" lie that causes all the mayhem on the stage of the Sitnik Theatre? Embarrassed by his propensity to giggle whenever his luscious young wife Yvonne calls him by her pet name, Dr. Hercule Molineaux has decamped to his study to sleep. That has made it easy for him to sneak out one night to meet a stalker woman patient at the Moulin Rouge (ostensibly to tell her he's not interested), only to be punched out by a huge Prussian soldier and spending the rainy night on a park bench. When Yvonne discovers his absence, she calls in her mother, the doctor makes up a cockamamie story about visiting another patient and, when that patient shows up, all hell breaks loose. It's too delicious and convoluted to recount clearly and, of course, I wouldn't want to spoil the fun! (Above L-R: Jacklyn Ingoglia, Alycia Kunkle, Robert Anthony Jones, Carl Wallnau [at desk], Colin Ryan, Allen Lewis Rickman, Ashley Kowzun and Liz Zazzi)
CSC Artistic Director Carl Wallnau has pulled off a nifty double play: he directs the action and plays Dr. Molineaux! The part fits Wallnau like a second skin. He gets to mug, eat up the scenery (legally), run amok and keep everyone laughing. He has assembled a cast seemingly made for farce. Alycia M. Kunkle's wide blue eyes and creamy skin project youth with a capital Y. As her mother, Mme Aigreville, Liz Zazzi looks like the Medusa the doctor thinks she is. With a wild fright wig and a rubber face, she is formidable most of the time but a sucker for a dressmaker who compliments her womanly figure. Ashley Kowzun's Suzanne Aubin is singleminded in her pursuit of the doctor, while Colin Ryan is hysterical as her husband, the Prussian soldier Gustav Aubin, who with a thick German accent mangles the English language to great effect. Robert Anthony Jones and Jaclyn Ingoglia play the cheeky valet Etienne and maid Marie, respectively, with great élan. But it is Allen Lewis Rickman's portrayal of the patient Bassinet that really puts the cherry on top of this frothy farce. His ever-present lisp raises laughter every time he utters a sentence made up of what seems to be a plethora of words beginning with s! My only quibble: everyone except Liz Zazzi speaks with a slight French accent while she sounds like the quintessential Jersey girl. (Above L-R: Allen Lewis Rickman as Bassinet and Carl Wallnau as Molineaux. Photo by Bob Eberle. )
Bob Phillips has designed a set perfect for the genre, with four doors and a window, the better for entering and exiting and slamming. Revolving panels transform the doctor's elegant drawing room into a dressmaker's shop. Julia Sharp's costumes fit the characters and the era very well.
In his director's notes, Carl Wallnau says, "while our sense of tragedy has changed over the years, our sense of what is comic hasn't." The characters in The Ladies Man may dress in 19th century duds, but their human foibles transcend time and place. Watching someone attempt to wiggle out of a lie, only to have to tell another and yet another, is delicious to audiences of any age. Centenary Stage Company has a big hit on its hands with The Ladies Man. It's well worth the trip out to Hackettstown to see the play. It's sure to get your mind off the country's economic woes and political squabbling!
The Ladies Man will be performed in the Sitnik Theatre of the Lackland Center on the campus of Centenary College through March 4. For information, call 90,.979.0900 or visit online at www.centenarystageco.org.