‘Metromaniacs’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company

Zowie! Pop! Slap! Holy Cow. Karabonga! I write to highly praise Metromaniacs as a wild, wonderful, built-for-speed, audaciously performed game-of-deception, fantasyland comedy based upon a multi-century old French farce. Hightail it to the Lansburgh. You will not be disappointed.

 Dina Thomas (Lisette) and Adam LeFevre (Francalou). Photo by Scott Suchman.
Dina Thomas (Lisette) and Adam LeFevre (Francalou). Photo by
Scott Suchman.

The night I saw the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Metromaniacs, the Washington Wizards were playing basketball just up the street at the Verizon Center. The Wizards fans missed plenty of fast-break action and slam-dunks at the Lansburgh. Director Michael Kahn must have taken his cast for some special early spring training to get them in physical and verbal shape for this high-speed, full court, electric evening of exquisite fun. The ensemble cast were the Harlem Globetrotters as a team, out to give their fans a great winning evening of entertainment, and without a score board or ref in sight.

What is it about? It’s a chaotic verbal rhyming feast; full of multiple plots and hilarious poetic rhymes about wooing, love’s eagerness for connection, no matter what. It is propelled with high octane, wily servants, masquerades, and gender-bending, set-off by a well-to-do-father who wants what is best for his daughter. Well, at least what he thinks is best in his own mind. It is David Ives’s marvelous fare-thee-well of an adaptation of Alexis Piron’s mid-18th century French comedy but with plenty of modern references including the likes of Britney Spears, Twitter and words like “girlatude,” sugar-daddy and suck-up, if I heard correctly.

There is good-natured theatrical madness as things get tangled, untangled and resolved through the seemingly effortless work of a crackling ensemble who are completely in the moment. As we all have heard in our lives, it is not how long it takes to get to a destination, but who is taking you that counts. Well, as an ensemble, this group is a dream team full of sparkle and luster. Sure, some shine a bit more than others, but so what. Together they bring sunny delight in the usually cold, dark month of February.

There is a wanna-be poet Damis (Christian Conn with a laudable take on an ambitious penniless “genius”) who has fallen in love with the poetry of a woman he has never met. We learn that the unseen woman poet is actually a well-to-do, middle-aged gentleman named Francalou (totally praiseworthy and enjoyable Adam LeFevrer). Francalou attempts to have Damis believe the unseen poet is really his own daughter Lucile (a precious, valley girl pop-tart dreamy Amelia Pedlow). Why? Seems he wants to separate his daughter from a suitor named Dorante (a sweetly earnest, appealing Anthony Roach), who is the son of his sworn enemy Baliveau (Peter Kybart).

What sets this topsy-turvy world on its head is that the upper classes meet their match and then-some with some striving servants who are far from being second-class citizens. They include the cunning Lisette (a sparkling quick-witted diamond played by Dina Thomas who made me think of Bette Midler) and a shticky character Mondor (played by funnyman Michael Goldstrom).

Beyond the break-neck speed of articulate elocution of verse, Kahn has provided the audience with smart physical movement choices including any number of long distance slaps across the face, clever use of props and only one scene of dropped pants.

The set by James Noone has the audience visually focused on the knock-out theatrically playful forest built dead-center in an opulent home. The action swirls around, into and hidden away in this play forest along with some cute set pieces such a rubbery rock. Murell Horton’s costumes are rich stock of 18th century garb that allow any number of breast, leg and butt jokes to become visibly displayed if the audience misses any particular speeding-by word or rhyme.  With sound design by Matt Tierney, lighting design by Mark McCullough, coaching from movement consultant Frank Ventura, and  voice and text guidance from Ellen O’Brien, Metromaniacs is a Valentine’s Day and beyond confection for the eyes and ears.

Metromaniacs, which I now know means a mania for writing verses and poetry, is a subversive slap at authority, class, power and society’s more conservative mores. It is a comedy where everyone invents themselves in a day before multi-player, on-line, digital games like a theatrical Second Life or lively cos-play convention. To review each line of rhyme or facial gesture would be a disservice to you. I hope you will take this review and go see the show.

In its day Metromaniacs was considered a disruptive force of theater. It still is. Metromaniacs brings to mind that delightful classic movie Some Like it Hot. So much good-natured fun and laughter on the surface, but, oh, how truly seditious it was during an outwardly conventional, conservative time.

 Christian Conn (Damis) and Anthony Roach (Dorante). Photo by Scott Suchman.
Christian Conn (Damis) and Anthony Roach (Dorante). Photo by Scott Suchman.

No, I will not give away the final curtain or details of Metromaniacs happy-ever-after denouement. A hint though; think Joe. E. Brown and Jack Lemmon in that cigarette speedboat heading who know where, with the fade away to Brown’s cherubic face with bright smile saying, “Well, nobody’s perfect…!” This is as close as you can get.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Metromaniacs plays through March 8, 2015 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre – 450 7th St., NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 547-1122, or purchase them online.

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