REVIEW: Theatre Pro Rata finds the hilarity in a Restoration revenge comedy about a husband-and-wife spat gone terribly wrong.
From rattling swords and rhyming couplets to stately wigs and sly servants, Theatre Pro Rata's newest production "Lovers and Executioners" transports its audience to a period long past. Questions of misogyny and the nature of love and forgiveness may lend this production some timeless themes, but the focus remains firmly on the fun of the farce.
John Strand's "Lovers and Executioners" is an adaptation of a 17th-century play by Antoine Jacob de Montfleury, a contemporary and rival of Molière. Strand retains the original work's rhyming couplet style and its farcical Restoration elements while imbuing it with a free-and-easy modern sensibility that makes it very accessible to today's audiences.
The improbable plot revolves around Bernard, a wealthy businessman, and his wife, Julie, whom he believes has cuckolded him. In revenge he leaves her to die on a desert island. Unbeknownst to him, Julie survives her ordeal. She reappears three years later disguised as a man and intent upon revenge. Amidst the ensuing comic frolic, she puts in motion a plot to reveal his crime and prove her innocence.
The action unfolds across a colorful landscape of scheming servants, amorous courtships, and boisterous swordplay as director Carin Bratlie sets an appropriately stylized tone and rollicking pace.
The standout performance comes from Amber Bjork as Bernard's fiancee, the coy and vacuous Constance, who is anything but constant in her affections. Decked out in an outrageous lavender wig and courted by a trio of would-be husbands, she's a comic study in preening self-absorption as she snaps her fan and weighs her options.
She's ably matched by Jesse Corder, as the tempestuous Don Lope, a self-styled "conquistador" with an ego even larger than his impressive collection of swords. Fine work is also provided by Grant Henderson and Katie Willer as a pair of scheming servants and Ben Tallen as Julie's loyal follower.
While these stock figures, familiar from the commedia dell'arte roots of this play, are handled with hilarious aplomb, the roles of Julie and Bernard are more problematic. Andy Chambers does a fine job of conveying Bernard's graceless bluster, but his conversion from villain to penitent by the end of the play is a plot twist that's difficult to make credible. Similarly, while Noë Tallen brings lively energy to the character of the wronged wife, she can't completely resolve the dichotomy in this play between its period attitudes and a modern sensibility.
These are minor concerns, however, in the face of an ambitious production that's as frothy and fun as this one.
Lisa Brock writes regularly about theater.