Theater review by Helen Shaw
In his program note for The Metromaniacs, writer David Ives says his adaptation of Alexis Piron's 1738 farce La Métromanie is “champagne, not ale.” Ives’s frolicsome verse comedy is certainly French and occasionally bubbly, but Metromaniacs is his fourth “translaptation” of such work in the last seven years, and the well of available material seems to be getting a bit shallow. In casting around for yet another comédie to adapt, Ives has wound up with a middling piece that can’t trigger his gift for well-machined mayhem.
Everybody in this merengue-light version of Paris is idiotically in love with something: wealthy Francalou (Adam LeFevre) is mad for poetic meter (hence the title); his daughter Lucille (Amelia Pedlow) has tumbled hard for the pastoral poet Damis (Christian Conn), though she’s never met him. Damis, in turn, believes he adores an acclaimed new poetess, but he’s actually gushing over work by his old chum Francalou, who writes under a nom de plume. False identities multiply: Damis himself uses two; his dunderheaded friend Dorante (Noah Averbach-Katz) is accidentally using his own name as a cover; Lucille’s maid Lisette (Dina Thomas) dresses as her mistress; and Damis’s manservant Mondor (Adam Green) takes a crack at being his boss. There are two hours of misunderstandings, then a curtain call.
Ives’s cleverness is indisputable, and he excels at a rare sort of verbal glitter. Michael Kahn’s production is physically exquisite—Murell Horton’s costumes are particularly dazzling—and several of the performers nail the gossamer tone. So why isn't is fizzier? In that program note, Ives writes that he’s applied himself to fixing Piron’s rather under-plotted original, tightening up the gears, figuring out the exits and entrances. But Ives hasn’t addressed the larger problem: the way that nothing onstage feels as though it matters in the slightest. For farce to work, we need to sense the abyss underneath the hero’s pin-wheeling feet. No one in The Metromaniacs actually much minds if they get found out at their little ruses. Without desperation, there’s no exhilaration. And so here, on the fourth pour, Ives’s particular brand of champagne finally goes flat.
The Duke on 42nd Street (Off Broadway). By David Ives. Directed by Michael Kahn. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.