Perhaps the most preposterous ingredient in a play entitled MARRIAGE is that there isn’t one; although there’s a lot going on in this high-energy production, a wedding doesn’t. And that’s only one small part of the greater illogic of the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s fast-paced farce of social mores and bourgeois pretensions, based on the questionable business of matchmaking in 1830s St. Petersburg.
Specializing in Theater of the Absurd, the IRC has found a suitable precursor to the genre in Nikolai Gogol’s MARRIAGE: AN UTTERLY IMPROBABLE OCCURRENCE IN TWO ACTS. The Russian playwright, active in the first half of the 19th century, populated his comedy with an outrageous gallery of undesirable suitors, an unscrupulous marriage broker, and meddling friends and relatives who see social climbing and financial gain as a basis for matrimony between ill-suited strangers.
As interpreted by IRC’s excellent ensemble and boldly boisterous direction, the period satire of sought-after status, ignoble behavior, and the loveless pairing of aging singles with ulterior motives is both hilarious and timeless (especially in light of current Reality-TV courtships and nuptials). Punctuated by amusing audience interactions, perfectly executed physical comedy, and clever sight gags, barely a minute goes by without laughter at the inflated characters and their over-the-top antics.
Among the most memorable scenes is an excruciating attempt at conversation between the reluctant bride (Kristen Egermeier) and mercurial groom (John D’Alonzo); her inept flirtations and his dashing but witless demeanor are priceless. David Stanger is another standout in the cast; his every posture, gesture, and facial expression is meticulously delivered, right down to the elegant pointing of his silk-stockinged feet.
Brian McCann as the dirty old man–both literally and figuratively–is a highlight of the show; his dusty old uniform and creepy salaciousness beg a good washing and a cold shower. Tina Brock, who does double duty as the show’s director, is terrific as Fyokla Felushka Ivanovna, the raucous and determined matchmaker. Also in the enjoyable cast are Sonja Robson, Ethan Lipkin, Joe Matyas, Michael Dura, and Tomas Dura, all of whom bring a unique brand of wackiness to their roles.
Running jokes about onerous Russian names and French as the language of cultured society are epitomized by McCann’s character, Baltazar Baltazarovitch Zhevakin, who erroneously speaks a few lines of “French” in Italian, revealing his true level of culture. Jenna Horton, as the understated maidservant Dunyashka—with no affectations or high rank–is the only character to exhibit a modicum of dignity and reserve, serving as a quiet counterpoint to the snobbish, overblown others.
The extraordinary scenic design by Anna Kiraly stands on its own as a masterpiece of absurdist art, with unfolding layers of flat panels painted with flat furnishings, and Erica Hoelscher’s impeccable costumes and wigs evoke Gogol’s era and characters with wit and precision.
Though there is no happily-ever-after in Gogol’s “utterly improbable” MARRIAGE, there is a wealth of very funny didactic absurdity in IRC’s winning production.
MARRIAGE: AN UTTERLY IMPROBABLE OCCURRENCE IN TWO ACTS
By Nikolai Gogol
Directed by Tina Brock
February 8-26, 2012
Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium
Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 5
825 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107