Let's Talk Off Broadway

Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: David Ives

The playwright ponders ... Pierre Corneille by an unknown 17th century artist. Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Review | The Liar | By David Ives | Adapted from Corneille’s play Le Menteur | Directed by Michael Kahn | Classic Stage Company

… bold brilliance …

This play is for everybody who loves words, word play, unexpected puns and rhymes of an unbound imagination.  It’s hilarious –and expands one’s sense of the English language.

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Review | The Heir Apparent by David Ives | Adapted from Le Légataire Universel by Jean-François Regnard | Directed by John Rando | Classic Stage Company

David Ives does it again — almost.  His earlier adaptation of Moliere’s le Misanthrope (1666), renamed The School for Lies  (reviewed here in 2011) was an orgy of unending laughter.  This adaptation of Regnard’s le Légataire universel (1708) which he renames The Heir Apparent isn’t as successful although Ives follows his same rules of mod transformation, because Regnard’s play falls short of the brilliance of le Misanthrope.  

So what does David Ives “do” with these late sixteenth and early seventeenth century French plays?   

He translates them into completely contemporary lingo, without any inhibitions or unnecessary reverence for  “The Past,” unworried about “anachronism,” using contemporary slang and turns of phrase, and in a spectacular rush of imagination invents contemporary in-jokes in place of  the in-jokes of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that today would seem like out-jokes, or be missed.  He's tremendously witty!  Meanwhile, he holds to the past in the costumes and, with titillating ambiguity, in the decor, and for the plot maintains the rules, regulations, customs and laws of the 16th and 17th centuries, all of which, coming up against the contemporary language and modern references, create a delicious cognitive dissonance.

Thanks to David Ives, these plays come to us more themselves than they would be in literal word-for-word translations.  They're as good as they were in their own day which in the case of Moliere means marvelous, less so for Regnard. 

Jean-François’ Regnard was a reigning comic playwright of the Comédie-Français after Moliere; this is his best known work.  The situation is that  a rich old man, Geronte, appears to be dying and his poor nephew, Eraste, is angling for his fortune, which will enable him to marry the beautiful Isabelle.  Obstacles arise for Eraste including the varied set of characters seeking the dying man’s fortune who appear and, in some amusing scenes, claim in one preposterous way or another to be long lost relatives. 

The biggest obstacle of all is that the tough old geezer, much as he seems on his last legs, simply doesn’t die.  Crispin the servant, facilitator to the core, invents clever schemes to help Eraste whose own inability to do anything for himself makes him a less than sympathetic character as a lover, which I found a weakness in the play.  Who cares if this jerk gets the girl or not? 

Much of the early part of the play (at least it seemed to go on a long time) centers around old man Geronte’s problems with his plumbing: there’s lots of tiresome scatological joking and horsing around.  Instead of an amusingly extreme aspect of character (such as one would find in Moliere), we’re stuck with Geronte’s extreme digestive problems, but Paxton Whitehead, abandoning any vestige of narcissism, gives his all to the rather repulsive role and, when called for, produces an impressive of physical transformation.  By the end of the play, the characters' situations have changed but — in contrast to le Misanthrope — they haven't learned much.  

The most interesting character is Scruple — the short lawyer of briefs – acted by David Pittu who plays it like José Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec in the 1952 John Huston film, The Moulin Rouge — on his knees.  He’s also responsible for the most hilarious scene in which the attorney, a true professional, is drawing up his client's will while oblivious to false identities — always good for laughs, and Pittu’s intelligent but obtuse sober mien adds to the fun.

Carson Elrod is energetic and amusing as Crispin, the man of many devices and “a whole comédie-française in himself.”   Suzanne Bertsch is appropriately imperious as Isabelle’s mother.  

See The Heir Apparent and you’ll enjoy it, but you don’t “have to see” it the way I felt you “had” to see The School for Lies.  (I saw it twice just so somebody else who'd miss it otherwise could see it once.)

The Heir Apparent plays at Classic Stage Company in New York City's East Village through May 4th, 2014.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

 Yvonne Korshak

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Review | The School For Lies by David Ives | Directed by Walter Bobbie | Classic Stage Company

… triple play …

What a romp!  What sheer fun!  Moliere would have loved The School For Lies.

And what a record, three for three, for Classic Stage and David Ives:

  • 2009:  Classic Stage produces Ives’ brilliant play about Spinoza,  New Jerusalem:  The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza
  • 2010:  Classic Stage produces Ives’ Venus in Fur which was a big success and launched Nina Arianda into stardom (though I found it tiresome)
  • 2011:  Classic Stage produces Ives’ The School for Lies, from Moliere’s The Misanthrope, and they’re right back on brilliant

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Review | Venus in Fur by David Ives | Directed by Walter Bobbie | With Nina Arianda and Wes Bentley | Classic Stage Company

… SM …

The Marquis de Sade died in 1814, which left over half a century for sadism to languish alone until masochism “arrived” in the 1870 erotic novelVenus in Furs — the author’s name, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, providing the word.

Ives’ play Venus in Fur  roughly follows the extreme SM relationship between the man and woman in the novel, which allows for plenty of sadism, masochism, and a beautiful woman in Victoria’s Secret type of lingerie tempting and teasing a man.  Voyeurism, sexual revelation, sanctified by touches of social history and the “serious” overtones of a “classic novel” — you can see why someone thought this would be a good play to produce.  The play’s repetitive quality and predictability, and — a casting problem — a total lack of chemistry between the actors playing the man and woman, make it boring.

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