An extraordinarily witty take on history and romance.
By Joel Benjamin
To paraphrase that Smucker’s jam commercial: with a title like Lickspittles, Buttonholers and Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens (LBG), it had better be good. Fortunately, LBG is an extraordinarily clever work which Johnna Adams, like David Hirson’s La Bête, has written (mostly) in rhyming couplets. Ms. Adams takes LBG into all sorts of fascinating directions all the while using different poetic forms to tell her very complex story. How she cleverly resolves the romantic shenanigans yet keeps the historical context clear is both amusing and mindboggling. (She does, at times resort to needless anachronistic phrases and behaviors—high fives, “dude,” “hand job,” etc.—to grab a few cheap laughs, but these moments are far outweighed by the finesse of the rest of the writing. This is an ambitious production of the Boomerang Theatre Company, even more impressive considering it is being presented in repertory with two other plays!
Set in Napoleonic Europe, LBG takes court intrigue to comic heights. On the tiny space of the spanking new Theatre Lab, under the quick-witted direction of John Hurley, the Boomerang takes us on an intriguing visit to Denmark, France and Great Britain unrolling Ms. Adams’ ingenious wordplay with which she manages not only to re-create a period of exciting changes as well as tell about blooming romances between people whose behavior is deceptively modern.
According to program notes, a lickspittle is a kiss-ass, a buttonholer is a professional loudmouth and a go-between is a reprehensible reprobate. Peder the lickspittle (Joseph Mathers), Stub the buttonholer (Chris Weikel) and their ringleader Guthbert the go-between (Nat Cassidy) have to figure out who precipitated their very physical exile from the Danish Court and aren’t above a little pandering to get back in the good graces of Prince Frederick. They try to persuade the supposedly virginal Sestine (Amy Lee Pearsall) to offer herself to Frederick, but she refuses. She not only refuses but does it in six stanzas, the only way she can express herself.
They hie themselves to France, risking their lives, only to meet their French counterparts who are, at first, incognito. Christienne the lickspittle (Felicia J. Hudson, an understudy who was energetic and sassy), Eglantine the buttonholer (Kristen Vaughan) and Candine the go-between (Kelley Rae O’Donnell) flirt with clever repartee until they wear each other down. Candine speaks at first only in Haiku and subsequently refuses to rhyme, driving Guthbert bonkers. Also involved are Napoleon (Isaiah Tanenbaum) who is portrayed as a pompous idiot and Josephine (Ms. Pearsall, again) who is a simpering shopaholic. Toss in a mysterious Irish butler (Gavin Starr Kendall) who turns out to be the father of one of the characters, the Duke of Wellington (Ridley Parson) who speaks only in Shakespearean sonnets, Prince Frederick (Mr. Kendall), plus a vital mishmash of poetic forms and LBG becomes a delicious theatrical stew. What might have been pompous literary trickery turns into an energetic romp performed by a cast of game actors.
There are only a few set pieces, designed by Jennifer Stimple Kamei, but they are ingenious as are the splendid costumes of Cheryl McCarron. The outlandish props of Sara Slagle also add to the fun.
All the actors are good-humored and agile. They take this arcane form and make it live.
Johnna Adams’ Lickspittles, Buttonholer and Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens is playing in repertory with Shaw’s Candida and Anouilh’s To Fool the Eye (adapted from Leocadia by Jeffrey Hatcher). Go to the Boomerang website (see below) to find out what’s playing when.
Boomerang Theatre Company
357 West 36th St., 3rd Floor (bet. 8th & 9th Aves.)
New York, NY
Tickets and Information: www.Boomerangtheatre.org or call TheaterMania at 866-811-4111
Running Time: Two and a half hours with one intermission