Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Heir Apparent

Playwright: Jean-Francois Regnard, adapted by David Ives

Venue:  Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache La Poudre, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Running time:  2 hours, 15 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Friday, February 17, 2017.

If it’s humor you seek,
it’s from the bathroom it leaks.
When of diarrhea he speaks 
The wealthy miser reeks and peaks.

Sorry.  I couldn’t resist writing some scatalogical poetry inspired by David Ives’ adaptation of Regnard’s classic comedy.  My hat is off to Ives; his poetry is much better than mine.  In fact, one might say that Ives is a rock star among writers of toilet verse.  

Le Légatalre Universal (The Heir Apparent) was first performed at the Comédie Francaise (the French national theater) in 1705.  It’s a commedia dell’arte farce of the first order.  Regnard’s script, arguably his best work, is a bawdy, funny, irreverent, and satirical romp.  David Ives has translated and adapted it, preserving the plot and the poetry but adding current cultural reference points.  

Adam Sterling-Blancas (Crispin) &
Sarah S. Shaver (Lisette).
Current cultural quips aside, though, The Heir Apparent doesn’t need a lot of detailed political or cultural analysis.  It’s best enjoyed for what it is:  a bawdy, naughty comedy about love, lust and greed.  The characters are from central casting. There’s the old fool Geronte (Steve Wallace) who falls for a beautiful girl (Isabelle, played by Michelle Pantle) who could be his daughter.  The girl’s mother (Joanne Koehler as Madame Argante) is a conniving battle axe.  Crispin (Adam Sterling-Blancas) and Lisette (Sarah S. Shaver) are servants in love.  Eraste (Greg Reilly) is the handsome, dashing suitor who cannot have Isabelle unless he can acquire Geronte’s fortune.  Scruple (the aptly named attorney, played by Sophie Thunberg) is a mere 3 feet tall and the source of numerous size jokes.

The story is straight forward.  Geronte is a wealthy miser but dying of diarrhea (a condition that may be naturally occurring or pharmaceutically induced).  He is desperately trying to live long enough to finish his will.  All the other characters (save Scruple) are jockeying to be the sole heir to Geronte’s fortune.  Some of the plot twists are predictable (Geronte, presumed dead, is resurrected for additional humor), others are not (Eraste and Crispin in drag).  Geronte has an Ebenezer Scrooge moment in the end, and love blooms for all.

Greg Reilly (Eraste) & Michelle Pantle (Isabelle).
This is an experienced and talented cast, led by Sarah S. Shaver as Lisette.  Shaver opens the show, dusting the set pieces when she’s grabbed from behind and embraced by her love interest Adam Sterling-Blancas.  The two make a credible couple, stealing kisses and trading glances at every opportunity.  Shaver’s mischievous side is on full display as she keeps Geronte loaded up on laxatives.  Greg Reilly is the hunky dashing pauper in love with Isabelle (Michelle Pantle).  Reilly and Pantle have the chemistry that Regnard intended.  Both are marvelous on their own, but together they are on fire.  Joanne Koehler’s Madame Argante is cold and calculating, keeping Eraste on the defensive.  Koehler is a strong, shrewd woman who refuses to be taken lightly.  

Steve Wallace (Geronte).  
Geronte is Regnard’s central character, and Steve Wallace nails his role as the wealthy miser lusting after Isabelle.  He is the classic “dirty old man,” sharing both his bowel movements and his libido shamelessly with the cast and the audience.
Regnard inserts Scruple into his script for purely comedic purposes; a 3 foot tall lawyer serves to diminish a profession that many before and after him have short changed.  Puns intended.  Sophie Thunberg (in drag, as it were, complete with a full but fake mustache) plays her role on her knees.  She shuffles around the stage, making the illusion real:  her Scruple is really only 3 feet tall.  For one of such small stature, though, Thunberg stands tall.  She milks the laughs from every line, exaggerating her French accent and channeling her inner Inspector Clousseau.  She makes the most of her short time onstage to make an oversized impact. 

Max Ferguson’s direction focuses on the fun, the physical, and the farce.  Ferguson doesn’t just permit some overacting.  He requires it.  From gestures, to costumes, to facial expressions, the cast is constantly directed to ham it up, and that’s a good thing.  Ferguson dresses Eraste and Crispin as women, and both actors are fetching, funny and fabulous.  Sarah S. Shaver’s costumes are a delight, and none are better than the hoop dresses for the guys.  

This performance was the second night of the run, and at times the actors seemed to rush their lines.  That’s a shame; Ives’ poetry, like a fine wine, is best sipped, not chugged.  Many of the lines needed a slower pace and occasional pauses to be fully appreciated.  

David Ives has written some exceptional scripts of his own, and he’s a master at adapting forgotten classics for the contemporary stage.  This Jean-Francois Regnard/David Ives collaboration is pure comedy, done in eloquent poetic verse.  I’m a fan, but there are those who may be intimidated by rhyming lines.  That’s a shame.  It may take your ears a few minutes to adjust to the cadence, but it’s well worth the effort.  Springs Ensemble’s production is an entertaining classic comedy with a modern twist.  Throw in a dirty old man with diarrhea, guys in drag, and a midget lawyer and you can count on a fun night out at the theater.

Foreground, L-R:  Adam Sterling-Blanca (Crispin) Steve Wallace (Geronte), Greg Reilly (Eraste).
Background, L-R:  Sarah S. Shaver (Lisette), Michelle Pantle (Isabelle).


This show closes on March 5, 2017. 

For all the bathroom humor and sexual innuendo, there were very few four letter words in the script.  The subjects may be delicate, but the language is rarely vulgar (I did note one F bomb).  Still, discretion would be advised for preteen children.

For more information on Regnard, Ives, and The Heir Apparent, check out this First Folio Student and Teacher Resource Guide.  (Hat tip to the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington DC.)

As information, the Comédie Francaise is still in the theater business more than 300 years after producing Regnard’s comedy.  

Photo Credit:  Springs Ensemble Theatre Company, photos by Emory John Collinson.

Tickets HERE.  


Executive Producer & Costume Design:  Sarah S. Shaver

Co-Producer:  Jenny Maloney

Director:  Max Ferguson

Set Designer:  Jack Salesses

Lighting Design:  Jeremiah Miller

Sound Design:  Taylor Geiman

Dramaturg:  LeAnne Carrouth

Stage Manager/Board Operator:  Amber Carlton

Costume Construction:  Rebecca Hillstead

Properties Master:  Marie Verdu

Running Crew:  SairReese Gavzy


Geronte:  Steve Wallace

Lisette:  Sarah S. Shaver

Eraste:  Greg Reilly

Crispin:  Adam Sterling-Blancas

Isabelle:  Michelle Pantle

Madame Argante:  Joanne Koehler

Scruple:  Sophie Thunberg

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Enchanted April

Carley Cornelius as Lotty.

Playwright: Matthew Barber, from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim

CompanyFine Arts Center

Venue:  SaGaJiTheater, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Running time:  2 hours, 10 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, February 11, 2017.

Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel The Enchanted April has been adapted for the big screen twice, first in 1935 and again in 1992, when it garnered 3 Oscar nominations and won 2 Golden Globes awards.  The Matthew Barber stage adaptation premiered in 2003, and a musical adaptation opened in 2010.  It’s nearly a century since von Armin created her female focused Italian holiday tale, and the story is arguably more fun and more relevant now than it was on the day it was first published.

von Armin’s story starts in the dreary London rain when Lotty (Carley Cornelius) discovers an “advert” (British for advertisement) offering an Italian castle for rent for the month of April.  It’s for those who love “wisteria and sunshine.”  Lotty’s a dreamer, but she’s trapped in a bleak marriage to her pompous, self centered husband Mellersh (Kevin Lowry).  Lotty recruits three other dispirited, disillusioned women to split the costs (60 pounds sterling) for q month in paradise.  It’s a “girls only” getaway, at least until the guys show up in Italy.

Enchanted April is a romantic comedy with a timely feminist slant; the ladies need to get away from the guys to reconnect as “sisters”.  It’s an empowering story.  By escaping from the guys, the ladies shake them up and are ultimately better able to reconnect with their spouses.  Lotty puts it well early in the first act:  time doesn’t go backwards.  It only moves forward.  Each day is like the last, and like the next, unless we do something to “move forward.”  A month in an Italian castle is her move forward.

On entering the theater, I was struck by Christopher L. Sheley’s sumptuous set.  For act one, it’s simple; six window frames suspended over the stage.  Those six window frames serve as multiple locations, in each case giving us a constant reminder of the incessant London rain.  Sheley’s window frames are a playground for lighting designer Holly Anne Rawls, who bathes the windows in different shades and different degrees of brilliance, depending on the time of day and the location.  Rawls has mastered the lighting that animates the endless rain that falls for the entire first act.

While Sheley’s set for the first act set engaging, it is the Italian castle set in the second act that provides spectacular eye candy.  The transformation from London to Italy is stunning, and Sheley’s set reinforces the emotional transformation of Barber’s characters as it shifts from dull London to idyllic Italy.  

MacKenzie Beyer (Caroline), Carley Cornelius
Carley Cornelius is from the Chicago area, but she’s a semi-regular on the Theatreworks stage at UCCS (see here, here, here, here, and here).  There’s some very good reasons why she keeps showing up 1,000 miles from her natural habitat.  She’s a consummate professional, a gifted actor, and as versatile as anyone I’ve ever seen.  I think this is her first Fine Arts Center appearance, and I hope the FAC will be asking her back often.  She’s the spark plug in the Enchanted April engine, punctuating Barber’s lines with her gestures, facial expressions, and natural charm.

Heather Lacy (as Rose) is Lotty’s reluctant partner in crime.  Lacy’s character shares one essential trait with Lotty:  she’s in a dead end marriage.  Even so, she knows her place, and Lacy plays the submissive Rose to Lotty’s rebellious dreamer.  

Karl Brevik as Wilding, the castle’s owner, has a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step, charming the ladies at every turn.  MacKenzie Beyer plays the beautiful, aloof Lady Caroline, mixing it up with Mrs. Graves over fashion choices and cognac.  Billie McBride (Mrs. Graves) is always a pleasure to watch on any stage, and her prickly, proper Mrs. Graves is no exception.

Kevin Lowry (Mellersh), Carley Cornelius (Lotty).
Kevin Lowry (Mellersh) and Logan Ernstthal (Frederick) are convincing as a pair of proper British male aristocrats of the early 20th century.  They exude privilege while demonstrating why they should have none.  As spouses, they would be a decidedly poor catch for any woman in 2017.  That said, however, the do provide a good deal of the humor for Enchanted April, and in the process, they inspire the ladies to bust out of their dreary routines.  Both are very capable actors who must have reached very deep to play the cads of Enchanted April.  I’m quite sure neither is a cad off stage.  Lowry gets special mention here, though, for being the “butt” of the funniest joke of the production.

Jane Fromme (Costanza).
Jane Fromme (as Costanza) has the smallest role in Enchanted April as the servant who speaks only Italian.  For Fromme, language is no barrier.  She speaks impeccable Italian (at least is sounds impecable to me, but I speak no Italian), but she communicates marvelously with her facial expressions and gestures.  Fromme has a delicate sense of comedic timing, and she uses it every time she hits the stage.  

Director Joye Cook-Levy clearly delights in this tale of empowerment.  My favorite scene in the production is the one where Lotty and Rose tell their husbands about their plan to go to Italy.  Cook-Levy tells the two stories simultaneously as Lotty and Rose confront their husbands.  It’s a highly relevant scene done with a poignant touch, and it’s a scene reminiscent of recent events (“She was warned.  “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”)  

Lotty and Rose persisted too.  They went to “paradiso.”

Carley Cornelius (Lotty) & Heather Lacy (Rose).

That said, you don’t have to see Enchanted April for the political or feminist value.  It’s a funny, charming, romantic story that has endured for nearly a century.  The Fine Arts Center production is a LOT of fun, and that’s reason enough to get a ticket.


This show closes on February 26, 2017. 

This show contains adult situations and brief nudity.  Recommended for adults and mature teens.  

I have been critical of some of the FAC productions in the past for not using audio mikes on the actors.  Enchanted April is fully miked, and the sound is excellent.  For this, I thank whoever (Sound Designer Ben Heston?  Director Joye Cook-Levy?) for the audio support for those of us with less than optimal hearing.

The rain effect in the first act is mesmerizing.  Rain is transparent, but somehow FAC has made it visible and real.  I do not know how they did this.  Wow.

On a personal note, Enchanted April confirms something I’ve discovered over the years.   Vacations and holidays are indeed an effective way to renew and refresh one’s outlook, but it’s not just about the vacation itself.  The planning, preparation, and anticipation is as powerful as the “wisteria and sunshine.”

Photo Credit:  Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, photos by Jeff Kearney.

Tickets HERE.  


Director:  Joye Levy

Set Designer:  Christopher L. Sheley

Costume Design:  Janson Fangio

Original Music Composed by:  Ryan Bañagale

Lighting Design:  Holly Anne Rawls

Sound Design:  Ben Heston

Dialect CoachAmy Brooks

Makeup & Hair Design:  Jonathan Eberhardt

Stage Manager:  Katelyn Springer


Rose:  Heather Lacy

Lotty:  Carley Cornelius

Lady Caroline:  Mackenzie Beyer

Mrs. GravesBillie McBride

MellerishKevin Lowry

Frederick:  Logan Ernstthal

WildingKarl Brevik

CostanzaJane Fromme