A colorful clearing outside a provincial French village is visited by the spirit of a murderer who enthralls Isabel, an innocent young schoolteacher obsessed with the enigma of death. Aided by the wise local Doctor, opposed by the hard-nosed Government Inspector, and courted by a handsome enamored Supervisor, will she forsake the supernatural, succumb to love and joy in the natural world, and be happy just to be alive? A rarely-performed gem of theatrical fantasy, The Enchanted — Maurice Valency’s 1950 English translation of Jean Giraudoux’s Intermezzo of 1933 — gets its regional premiere from Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, in an intimate production that ponders the big questions of life, death, and love with whimsical charm and preternatural insight.
Though the playwright has often been classified as the literary equivalent of an Impressionist painter for his luminous style, poetic language, and respect for nature, Tina Brock, dedicated to Absurdist Theater, directs with a keen eye also for Giraudoux’s preposterous humor and playful irreality, in his alluring exploration of the incomprehensible riddles of our existence. She ingeniously enhances the absurdities of his story by employing cross-gender casting and animated puppetry for several of the roles, while her adroit cast revels in their inexplicable pronouncements and hilarious jibes at the illogic of government and politics, religion and philosophy, science and technology, and social norms.
Anna Lou Hearn captures the purity of Isabel, who defends her unorthodox instruction of her students (“I can only teach what I believe”), then waivers between her attraction to The Ghost (Daniel Barland), who could explain the secrets of death, and The Supervisor (John D’Alonzo), who would keep her earthbound. The outstanding Jane Moore is a force of nature as The Doctor, uncanny and intuitive in her wisdom, while David Stanger as the imperious Inspector and Melissa Amilani as the ineffectual mustachioed Mayor are ever-flawless in their vocal and physical characterizations. Rounding out the thoroughly amusing ensemble are Bob Schmidt and Tomas Dura — an absolute howl, in full drag, as the chattering sisters Armande and Leonide Mangebois, with laugh-out-loud deliveries of the voices and mannerisms of the small-town gossips.
Vibrant Muppet-style puppets, created by Mark Williams, directed by Robert Ian Cutler, and operated by Margaret McKiven, Candra Kennedy, and Barland (assisted by Schmidt and Dura as the Executioners), effectively represent the youthful zeal and instinctual knowledge of Isabel’s students, with high-pitched juvenile speech patterns and spot-on gesticulations that compensate for their lack of changeable facial expressions. Brock harmonizes the performances of the actors with those of the puppets by incorporating precise readily-legible expressive gestures (at which Stanger is a true master) that emphasize their characters’ lines and define their temperaments.
Erica Hoelscher creates a dreamlike visual design, with a full palette that contrasts the soft tones of blue-green trees and leaves, shimmering brown rocks, and straw-colored stalks of foliage with the saturated red of an Oriental carpet, brightly painted stones of a man-made wall, and historicizing costumes ranging from black and white to vivid hues and patterns that are in keeping with the figures’ occupations and personalities. An evocative lighting design by Peter Whinnery and soundscape by Brock further enrich the show’s beguiling mood.
IRC’s production of The Enchanted is both magical and meaningful, offering a provocative look at nature and the supernatural, fact and superstition, education and wisdom, and what is normal or abnormal, and well-representing the “sheer poetry” of Giraudoux’s affecting vision.
Running Time: Approximately One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.
The Enchanted plays through Sunday, March 5, 2017, at Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, performing at the Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5 – 825 Walnut Street, 5th floor, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call (215) 285-0472, or purchase them online.