‘ Heir Ap­par­ent’ a force­ful farce

‘ The Heir Ap­par­ent’ takes awhile for the mov­ing parts to work, but work it does.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Mar­garet Gray cal­en­dar@ latimes. com

In­ter­na­tional City Theatre stages David Ives’ up­date of the French play.

Strug­gles over in­her­i­tance are al­ways painful — un­less, of course, they take place in a French farce, in which case they are end­lessly prank­ish and rib­ald.

In 2011, “Venus in Fur” play­wright David Ives “transladapted” ( his coinage, com­bin­ing “trans­la­tion” and “adap­ta­tion”) a play orig­i­nally called “Le Le­gataire Uni­ver­sal,” by the for­got­ten French play­wright Jean- Fran­cois Reg­nard. Matt Walker of Los An­ge­les’ beloved Trou­ba­dour Theater Com­pany di­rects the L. A.- area pre­miere of Ives’ up­date, “The Heir Ap­par­ent,” at In­ter­na­tional City Theatre in Long Beach.

The play was f irst per­formed in 1708. Reg­nard rose to fame af­ter the death of Molière, who cast a pow­er­ful inf lu­ence over him — and wrote in rhyming cou­plets, which Ives has re- cre­ated in English.

That de­scrip­tion may sum­mon a lofty, re­mote dra­matic land­scape, but farce from this era re­mains star­tlingly rel­e­vant 300 years later, in part be­cause it fo­cuses on the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tors of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence: greed, lust and di­ges­tion. The di­a­logue abounds with erec­tion and di­ar­rhea jokes and f lat­u­lent noises for which an 8- year- old would be sharply rep­ri­manded.

“This is so ... in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” a woman com­plained at in­ter­mis­sion. Her com­pan­ion replied, “That’s farce!”

The char­ac­ters and story are di­rect de­scen­dants of com­me­dia dell’arte. A de­crepit miser, Geronte ( Matthew Hen­er­son), un­civilly in­sists on re­main­ing alive even though his nephew, Eraste ( Wal­lace An­gus Bruce), would very much like to in­herit his for­tune.

Eraste is in love with the beau­ti­ful Is­abelle ( Suzanne Jolie Nar­bonne), whose greedy mother, Madame Ar­gante ( Re­becca Spencer), wants to sell her hand to the high­est bid­der.

Geronte and Eraste have a saucy, clever ser­vant each: Lisette ( Paige Lind­sey White) and Crispin ( Adam J. Smith), who are in love and ea­ger to smooth the path for Eraste and Is­abelle.

When Geronte abruptly de­cides, as cranky old mi- sers will, to leave his money to two dis­tant rel­a­tives, Crispin dresses up like each, in turn, and por­trays them as craven op­por­tunists.

Events take another turn when Geronte de­cides to marry Is­abelle him­self, then get even worse when he abruptly dies be­fore writ­ing his will. But per­haps all is not lost. A tiny lawyer, Scru­ple ( Adam von Al­men, walk­ing on his knees), is wait­ing out­side, and Crispin is very good at im­per­son­ation.

It all prom­ises hi­lar­ity, but the pro­duc­tion feels heavy and lum­ber­ing at first. It takes a while for the ear to get used to Ives’ verse, which is knotty and pep­pered with anachro­nisms in our own pa­tois, like “soc­cer mom.”

Athough the per­form­ers try to speak with spon­tane­ity and ease, the com­pli­cated rhythm and gram­mar get in their way, of­ten mak­ing them sound stilted.

The per­for­mance style is also highly man­nered. The ac­tors pause and turn to the au­di­ence for re­ac­tions, ac­com­pa­nied by comic sound ef­fects such as slide whis­tles ( by sound de­signer Mark McClain Wil­son). They don’t al­ways ap­pear com­fort­able with the phys­i­cal de­mands of the genre. Per­haps as a re­sult, the pac­ing feels halt­ing.

By the sec­ond act, how­ever, many of these dis­trac­tions fade: The ear tunes it­self to the verse, and the per­form­ers re­lax into their high jinks . as the laughs and the plot twists ( many added by Ives) be­gin to cas­cade.

The per­form­ers, par­tic­u­larly Smith as Crispin, f ind their tim­ing and their stride. This pro­duc­tion boasts a gor­geous set by Christo­pher Scott Murillo glow­ingly lit by Jeremy Pivnick and pretty pe­riod cos­tumes by Kim DeS­hazo. It has all the in­gre­di­ents for suc­cess; it may just need to cook a bit longer be­fore it achieves per­fec­tion.

Suzanne Mapes

Suzanne Mapes

RE­BECCA SPENCER, Adam von Al­men and Matthew Hen­er­son in “Heir Ap­par­ent” at ICT.

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