Farce is most definitely not for the faint of heart. A 21st century playwright, David Ives, has translated Alex Prion’s 18th century French comedy into a rollicking ensemble piece delivered entirely in rhyming couplets because poetry is all the rage. Honest Pint Theatre’s production of The Metromaniacs thoroughly commits to the tenets of the genre and squeezes the wit out of every last syllable of seemingly unending verbal wordplay.
In true farce form, Prion’s original play was inspired by misunderstandings, and indeed, that is what propels the various silly plots that unravel over the course of two acts. What brings the characters together is their passion for poetry and pursuit of love — an exaggerated romantic comedy told entirely in verse, where the rhymes drive the show, not the characters.
Seven characters, decked out in colorful period costumes (Sheila Hiatt Cox), prance about a ballroom populated by cardboard cutouts of trees to suggest a forest. Some of the guests will pretend to be someone else to chase their romantic interests at the home of Francalou (Rob Jenkins), a Parisian gentleman wealthy enough to indulge his writing hobby. He plans to stage his latest work, setting up the classic play within a play trope, which prompts more mix-ups and additional complications. Double entendres, sexual sight gags, and bawdy innuendo are coupled with broad performances to elevate the frenetic and humorous chaos.
Francalou’s daughter, Lucille, a delightfully flouncy and exuberant Tara Nicole Williams, is possessed by verse mania. The maid, Lisette, played by an engaging and feisty Megan Piner, and endowed with some of the best rhymes, shows herself to be wittier than most of the other preening poets around her. Both of these actors garnered some of the heartiest laughter of the evening.
A visiting poet, Damis (Aaron Alderman), a conniving valet, Mondor (Gus Allen), a charmingly dense suitor, Dorante (Sean A. Brosnahan), and a grumpy relative, Baliveau (John Rogers), collide and careen off each other like bumper cars. They offer up a mixture of stereotypes garnished with exaggerated gestures that forced the comedy at a relentless pace.
This cast, directed by Honest Pint Theatre co-founders Susannah Hough and David Henderson, delivers an exhausting physical performance that mirrors the non-stop verbal antics. The humor can be wickedly funny, but the level of absurdity almost becomes too much. Nothing is at stake here, and yet that is the point. Ives sees a need for us just to be entertained, dessert without calories, which provides momentary pleasure without satiety.
The Honest Pint Theatre production of The Metromaniacs runs through September 29th at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre. For more information visit: https://www.honestpinttheatre.org/.
Listen to the RDU on Stage podcast episode featuring Tara Nicole Williams, which was recorded prior to her being cast in The Metromaniacs, but is a candid conversation about body image, typecasting, and representation on stage.