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September 16, 2011

A REVIEW: STC Farce That Brings Many Laughs

Roy Meachum

To start the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Silver Anniversary, Michael Kahn selected David Ives’ rhyming version of a 1708 French farce. Many Americans have never seen the format which closely resembles pie-in-the-face vaudeville.


Mr. Ives’ “The Heir Apparent” calls on no characters to slip on a banana peel. Not quite. But the goings-on in Seventh Street’s Lansburgh Theatre can never be taken seriously. Jean-Francois Regnard’s original play debuted 35 years after the death of Moliere, the acknowledged master of the Gallic version of the Italian commedia dell’arte. Many times in the evening I was reminded of the master’s “The Miser” and “The Imaginary Invalid,” Moliere’s last play.


But the difference, as in all farces, rests entirely in the brilliant production that Michael Kahn wroth. The director chose Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge, Philip Rosenberg (lights) and Murell Horton, responsible for the early 18th century costumes, directly from the highly successful STC’s “The Liar.” David Ives rewrote that one, too. Adapted from Moliere’s contemporary, Pierre Corneille, noted for his tragedies, this was his sole comedy. Composer Adam Wernick contributed the performance’s music.


Carson Elrod, in his STC debut, leads the acting crew through the never-ending antics that Director Kahn generated, with help from his players. Floyd King portrays the “dying” central character in the evening. Nancy Robinette is his overbearing sister, described in the play as a “greedy bitch — an honor awarded to Mr. Elrod. Andrew Veenstra plays the nephew who desperately needs a rich inheritance, so he can marry the lovely Meg Chambers Steedle, his pretend fiancée. Kelly Hutchinson livens more than several moments as Mr. Elrod’s sidekick, shaking her blonde curls every which way. Clark Middleton generates beaucoup laughs as the diminutive lawyer that comes to draw up the will, which provides the play’s plot line. I cannot simply remember when ensemble playing reached such heights as in the STC’s “The Heir Apparent.”


The producer-director would take the ultimate blame if the David Ives’ adaption of Corneille fell on its nose. It very much didn’t happen. So, the name that must be writ larger than all the rest belongs to Michael Kahn who moved to Washington from New York’s Julliard and started what became the Shakespeare Theatre Company 25 years ago!


In all my nearly five decades covering the area’s performing arts, Mr. Kahn deserves ranking with Roger L. Stevens, who built the Kennedy Center, and Frankie Hewitt, who revived Ford’s Theatre that lay dark after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. I’m much honored that my life encompassed their talents.


Meanwhile, to witness what I’m shouting about, get your knickers down to the District’s Lansburgh Theatre some time before October 23rd. Afterwards, “The Heir Apparent” trucks its bag of hysterical antics on down Seventh Street.


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