Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
David Ives, the playwright famous for “Venus in Fur,” which moved to Broadway after its initial run at the Classic Stage Company and has become one of the United States most produced plays, has another career translating classical French comedies originally written in rhymed couplets and adapting them to contemporary English rhymed dialogue. I saw his production last year at the Shakespeare Company in Washington, DC of “The Liars” and “The Heir Apparent” is a co production with that company. Many of Ives’ adaptations have been presented successfully at the Classic Stage Company featuring such well known actors as Zoe Caldwell and Richard Easton.
“The Heir Apparent” (Le Legataire Universel) is a 1708 comedy by Jean-Francois Regnard who wrote 25 plays and was revered by Moliere. It was his final play. The production is directed by John Rando who has a long career directing Ives’ plays, both the adaptations and the originals including the long-running “All in the Timing” and many of Ives’ Encore adaptations. “The Heir Apparent” is brilliantly directed and performed by several well known actors. It stars Carson Elrod (“Peter and the Starcatcher”) as Crispin, the manipulating male servant who appears in many hysterically funny disguises as both males and females; veteran actor Paxton Whitehead (Shaw Festival, many Broadway Tony nominated performances) as Geronte, the aging and feeble patriarch who is believed dead before he can sign his new will; Suzanne Bertish (who was the best Cleopatra I have ever seen in the Shakespeare Company’s “Anthony and Cleopatra” a year ago, and most recently in “Machinal” at the Roundabout) as a battle-ax mother; multiple Tony nominated David Pittu playing his whole performance on his knees as Scruples, the dwarf lawyer; Amelia Pedlow (recently in the Pearl’s “You Never Can Tell”) and David Quay as the young lovers; and Julliard trained Claire Karpen as the all knowing maid Lisette. There is a rip roaring finale to the first act with many of the characters dressed in drag singing and dancing about money. There are funny jokes about a cuckoo clock that makes sounds like farts, and a struggle to find the missing fortune that is supposed to be in a special chest, the key to which is worn around the neck of the supposed dead Geronte, dragging his supposed dead body on stage to get it opened. What is in it is an old key which gets thrown off the open window into the garden below.
The second act really takes off when Elrod imitates Geronte, wearing his clothes, and dictating his new will to Scruples. As he bequeaths great amounts to himself and Lisette, the supposed dead Geronte appears and sits on top of him and poor Scruples is totally confused, thinking he is seeing double. When he returns with the copy of the new will, Geronte has revived and is elegantly dressed and denies that he wrote the will. What follows is extraordinary comic scenes with the entire ensemble doing funny moves and business. Of course, it all ends happily but not until everyone finds out where the gold coins are (and they rain out into the audience.) And many times, the company makes the audience do the outrageous movements that Crispin had made all the beneficiaries do.
“The Heir Apparent” is non stop laughter and you owe yourself to buy a ticket. The superb set is by John Lee Beatty and the elegant costumes are by David C. Woolard. It has received rave reviews and has been extended through May 11th at The Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13 Street, (212 352-3101) or classicstage.org
*Photos: Richard Termine