The sparkle is less apparent than usual in this David Ives adaptation of a French Restoration comedy.
In the first moments of David Ives’s 2011 adaptation of a 1708 comedy by French dramatist Jean-Francois Regnard, a decrepit grandfather clock marks the hour with a series of chimes that alternate, for some reason, with fart noises. Soon a chambermaid enters and exaggeratedly registers a noxious odor.
That sets the stage for much of the first act, at least, of The Heir Apparent. The clock’s owner, the miserly Geronte, is as decrepit as the clock, as evidenced by wheezing, loogie-hocking expectorations and florid descriptions of his extreme bowel movements. Apart from the scatological, the play hinges on the efforts of his nephew Eraste and a pair of long-suffering servants to secure a will naming the nephew sole inheritor before the old man croaks.
Ives, who’s made a bit of a cottage industry of sprucing up old French verse comedies for modern audiences, usually dazzles with his wordplay. Yet in this Chicago Shakes production directed by John Rando—a Tony winner in 2002 for Urinetown and nominated again this year for his revival of On the Town—you keep noticing just how tortured Ives’s rhymes are: a symptom, perhaps, of a production that seems unclear of just what its comic targets are.
Geronte, as played by the formidable Paxton Whitehead (reprising the role from another Rando production last year at Off Broadway’s Classic Stage Company), is half putrid stinker (literally), half ill-used victim. Eraste is played by Nate Burger, previously the dashingly caddish lead of Ives’s The Liar at Writers Theatre, but his character here comes across as just plain caddish and selfish.
As the servants, the hard-working Cliff Saunders and Jessie Fisher get some funny Looney Tunes–style business selling various cover-ups, but their supposed love connection is far too flimsy to root for. There are a handful of isolated chuckles to be had, but on the whole The Heir Apparent is way too airy.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater. By David Ives. Directed by John Rando. With Paxton Whitehead, Nate Burger, Cliff Saunders, Jessie Fisher, Emily Peterson, Linda Kimbrough, Patrick Kerr. Running time: 2hrs 10mins; one intermission.