& Company, Lenox, Mass., through Aug. 31
ready for summer vacation? Because in this staging of Charles
Morey’s adaptation of classic French farce, it’s a requirement
that you leave your thinking cap at home and not probe too
deeply for meaning. The Ladies Man is a romp through
the misunderstandings of a young wife and her older doctor-husband,
who, we discover as the play opens, sleep in separate bedrooms.
Commence the opening and slamming of doors, mistaken identities
and double entendres that define the genre of farce. To create
The Ladies Man, Charles Morey combined two plays by
Belle Epoch French playwright Georges Feydeau (Ladies’
Dressmaker and A Flea in Her Ear). If you can forget
about making sense of the ensuing merry mayhem, and if you
don’t mind your farce delivered with an American heavy-handedness
(instead of that French je ne sais quoi), you will
enjoy this performance, chortling despite your better judgment.
has sexual difficulties with his young wife, and in the first
act he drags himself through the window after a night spent
away from home. Bassinet, a friend with a lisp, shows up just
at the wrong moment and won’t leave. Then the mother-in-law
from hell appears, uttering such lines as this: “Would you
take me for a fool?” To which her son-in-law predictably (but
no less enjoyably) responds, “I wouldn’t take you for anything,
Madame.” Wink wink, nod nod. These hapless characters’ attempts
to communicate with each other devolve completely from here,
until they are reduced to games of cat-and-mouse, running
into and away from each other in panicky confusion. While
many of the elements of farce are on display (and you’llThe
game of love: Elizabeth Aspenlieder (top) topples Jonathan
Croy (bottom) in The Ladies Man. recognize them
if you’ve ever watched the Marx Brothers, or Saturday morning
cartoons for that matter), something seems to have been lost
some high points (notably, Michael F. Toomey as Bassinet and
Walton Wilson as Gustav Aubin), the acting is uneven: Molineaux
(Jonathan Croy) seems more like a world-weary Frasier than
a randy husband driven to the edge of desperation—a crucial
flaw because his character is central. Still, Elizabeth Aspenlieder
as Suzanne Aubin, his medical patient and would-be paramour,
does a great job attempting to revive his spirits with her
heaving bosom and bump-and-grinding. The excellent period
set and props, like Suzanne’s misplaced lace glove and a measuring
tape (used in a bawdy scene by the mother-in-law), keep the
double entendres flowing.
usual suspects appear: the ironic manservant, Etienne (Dave
Demke), and the saucy French maid, Marie (Caley Milliken).
The entrances and exits of the overbearing mother-in-law are
delightfully over-the-top with ominous music and lighting.
Her daughter, Yvonne (Julie Webster), is the passive young
wife, whose opposite is the aggressively lustful Suzanne.
Of course, Suzanne’s Prussion officer husband is given to
jealousy: Walton Wilson’s deliciously played Gustav, who rolls
his r’s with Teutonic relish as he says “fragrant delight”
instead of “flagrante delicto.” Bassinet, the lisping
friend made vivid by Toomey, does a superb job of getting
under just about everybody’s skin, mangling the many s’s
required to repeat the trysting address of the dressmaker.
of the performance’s unevenness may come from the bumpy adaptation.
In Feydeau’s original Ladies’ Dressmaker, Molineaux
actively seeks out Suzanne; one wonders why our hero is more
ambivalent in Morey’s version. While The Ladies Man retains
the physical humor and preposterous misunderstandings of Feydeau’s
originals, it lacks the playfulness and precision of true
French farce. Characters in a farce must speak irrationally,
not clumsily. Rather paradoxically, absurd humor necessitates
exactness with language. It also requires actors to shed their
relies on these contradictory strategies: the dramatic emphasis
of characters’ basest, most foolhardy desires, and a subtle
exploitation of the gaffes of language when those same characters
attempt to cover their tracks. The ensuing absurdities are
a delight to witness when farce works, but its effects are
as evanescent as laughter, and as this play demonstrates,
just as challenging to translate.