NEW YORK—Light enough to blow away yet filled with a plot so wonderfully convoluted that I dare you to keep up with it, David Ives’s “The Metromaniacs” contains numerous cases of mistaken identity (I stopped counting at seven), false assumptions, and important lessons about life in general. Ives’s “translaptation” (his word), presented by Red Bull Theater, of Alexis Piron’s 1738 work “La Métromanie” is, for the most part, quite a delight.
In Paris in 1738, Francalou (Adam LeFevre), a would-be writer whose verses are commonly derided, is about to stage his latest play. He’s turned his living room into a forest, complete with trees and glades, for the occasion. Among the invitees are 100 potential suitors for his beautiful daughter Lucille (Amelia Pedlow). Somewhat an airhead, Lucille is in love with all words poetical, with little time for anything else.
Using the nom de plume Meriadec de Peauduncqville, a woman supposedly from Brittany, Francalou has secretly been submitting his poetry to the top literary magazine in France. The acceptance and publication of his verse have made Meriadec the toast of Paris. Among this nonexistent woman’s more ardent admirers is Damis (Christian Conn), a young man and hopeful poet and playwright himself.
Drowning in debt, Damis, who forsook a law career to pursue his art, is about to premiere a play of his own—also written under a pen name. Damis hopes the work’s success will elevate him to literary greatness.
Also present for Francalou’s play is Damis’s good friend Dorante (Noah Averbach-Katz), who has fallen madly in love with Lucille. Sadly, Dorante is so poetically challenged, he couldn’t tell an iambic pentameter from a bucket of water.
In an attempt to help his friend, Damis pens a verse for Dorante to give to Lucille. However, before Dorante’s attempted courtship can proceed very far, both he and Damis, each of whom are using assumed names at Francalou’s gathering for reasons too long to explain here, find themselves conscripted into performing in Francalou’s play.
Both men thus take on yet another false identity in the process, as does one Baliveau (Peter Kybart). An old friend of Francalou and an uncle to Damis, he is hot on the trail of his nephew after learning of his abandonment of the legal profession.
Each of the characters depicted in “The Metromaniacs” is blissfully locked in to his or her own particular worldview. As the play progresses and the characters stumble from one situation to the next, they must confront the reality of not only their own place in the world but also their perceptions of it.
The only characters starting off with a grounded sense of things are Damis’s valet Mondor (Adam Green) and Lucille’s maid Lisette (Dina Thomas). Though it’s not long before they too are swept away by the frenetic situations and assume new identities of their own.
In the show’s program, Ives explains how “The Metromaniacs” (those who have an obsession with poetry) is a play with five plots (though I counted more), “none of which are important.”
Yet beneath the paper-thin storylines, important points are made. The ultimate point is that the idea of love is quite different from actually being in love. And that infatuation with a person’s writings does not mean one knows that person intimately or even knows them at all. There’s also the idea that one’s passion must sometimes be tested with adversity to prove its worth. Damis notes how “a tempest teaches better than a breeze.”
Both Ives (and Piron before him) use a heavy dash of satire to ridicule the literary establishment that ends up being fooled by the poetry of one they previously rejected. This premise stems from an actual incident.
It’s a testament to the text that one cannot always see where the story is going, as it’s so full of comedic twists and turns. There are times when the dialogue—all done in rhyming couplets—goes over the top, such as in a Britney Spears reference. Ives has made his story so topical that one can’t help but wonder how it will fare in years to come, when faced with changing tastes and sensibilities.
And building an intermission into the play really wasn’t necessary; it could just as easily have been played straight through.
Despite these quibbles, Michael Kahn’s direction is sure-handed, making each situation flow seamlessly into the next. The farcical situations, misconceptions, and overall hysteria build to a huge and hilarious crescendo.
The entire cast is very good, each playing off each other perfectly, with standouts including Green and Thomas as the somewhat street-smart Mondor and Lisette. Pedlow does well as Lucille, the one character who changes the most over the course of the play.
Other than a few hiccups here and there, the nicely crafted “The Metromaniacs” is a joyful experience.
The Duke on 42nd Street
229 W. 42nd St.
Tickets: 646-223-3010 or DukeOn42.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: May 20
Judd Hollander is a reviewer for Stagebuzz.com and a member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle.