Home #Hwoodtimes The Metromaniacs at Theatre 40 Transports the Audience to a French Chateau

The Metromaniacs at Theatre 40 Transports the Audience to a French Chateau

The Los Angeles Premiere Engagement of the David Ives adaptation of a traditional French farce abounds with energy and goodwill with lovely sets and costumes.

By John Lavitt

Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 07/23/2022 – Produced by David Hunt Stafford for Theatre Forty, the Los Angeles premiere engagement of The Metromaniacs reveals a comedy where the entire cast and crew are having a swell time. A modern rhyming comedy set in the distant past, the adaptation of a French farce from 1738, La Metromaie, by David Ives is a challenging play for any theatre company to take on. From the rhythms of the rhyming couplets to the recreation of a French Chateau, there is a lot to accomplish on stage.

In the new production directed by Marjorie Hayes, the results are a bit of a mixed bag of tricks. The best aspects of the play are apparent right from the start. First, the set design by Jeff G. Rack is gorgeous, and the effect feels like walking into a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a French Chateau. The painted trees and foliage of the set within the set are beautifully rendered, and the painted backdrops behind the windowed balconies are a lovely touch. The set design shows how much a designer can accomplish with a bit of paint and wood.

The arrival in the first scene of Mandy Fason as Lisette, the home’s all-knowing servant, and David Hunt Stafford as Francalou, the wealthy poet (a bit of an oxymoron) and owner of the French Chateau, is the initial reveal of the play’s second triumph; the costume design. From the first scene to each costume change, Michèle Young is inspired and precise as the play’s costume designer. Sumptuous and detailed, the actor’s costumes meld perfectly with the beautiful set, transforming the Ruben Cordova Theatre at Beverly Hills High School into a magical location.

Mandy Fason and David Hunt Stafford in The Metromaniacs

While the production’s design and look work incredibly well, the actual performance is where the mixed bag comes into play. The extended story often feels repetitive and mannered. The play functions like a machine gun of comedy, throwing out tons of exposition and character details in rhyming couplets that sometimes work and sometimes do not. Moreover, the actors deliver the rhyming couplets in vastly different ways. While a few are comfortable with the poetic style of the language, others fall into obvious patterns of enunciation and repetition. Overall, the most exemplary performer in the play is Mandy Fason, who lends intelligence and wit to all her scenes. Hisato Masuyama also provides moments of much-needed comic relief.

From the outset, however, the play and the actors are hampered by the exposition-heavy script by David Ives. Rather than rising to the light comedic level of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or Much Ado About Nothing, the comedy feels heavy and overly plotted. Although the cast is putting their blood, sweat, and tears into the production, the rapid-fire energy of what happens on stage proves overwhelming. Indeed, The Metromaniacs stands as a definite reminder of the undeniable brilliance of Shakespeare’s work. Moreover, there is no question that the finest examples of that work are in the histories and the tragedies.

Mandy Fason and John Wallace Combs in The Metromaniacs

Perhaps there also is a reason Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter is performed so much more often than the comedic rhyming couplets of French comedic playwright Molière. Although the source material was written long after Molière’s death, the French farce is a grandchild of his style. What proves so frustrating about The Metromaniacs is how a play about poetry, written in rhyming couplets, is so unpoetic. Although ridiculous in nature, one would expect some of the actual lines in a play about poetry to be beautiful and transcendent. Instead, the best moments of poetry are wink-winks to the audience about modern trends and pop cultural references. Ultimately, David Ives allows his characters to fawn over couplets and words that are pedestrian.

Still, in the stillness of such conclusions, it is essential to note that many in the audience would disagree with my opinions. There was laughter and applause in the theatre. Finally, a pang of guilt lingers, particularly in light of Theatre 40’s first-class efforts to bring such an intricate and challenging comedic work to the Los Angeles stage. Such efforts need to be recognized, particularly from an independent theatre post the height of the pandemic.