by Ruth K. Brown
Elizabeth Heflin as Zeze in ANYTHING TO DECLARE? Photo: Nadine Howatt.

Elizabeth Heflin as Zeze in ANYTHING TO DECLARE? Photo: Nadine Howatt.

For centuries the theatrical construction called farce has existed with sustained audience acceptance. The key aspects of a production of farce are: improbable situations, mistaken identity, stylized performances and verbal dexterity on themes of various levels of sophistication. Resident Ensemble Players (REP) is bringing their version of a classic French farce to the stage with ANYTHING TO DECLARE?, a farce originally written by Maurice Hennequin and Pierre Veber, French playwrights who collaborated for more than 20 years.

Hennequin was known for his intricate-to-the-point-of-incomprehensible plots while Veber’s expertise was in character development. The REP ensemble brought both of these elements to the Delaware audience with aplomb and expertise. Director Steve Tague brought the adaptation and translation by Greg Leaming to use with his talented cast for this production. While Leaming is an award winning translator and Tague’s direction was brisk and meaningful, the audience here in Delaware appreciated this farce at several levels. The language moved between clear conversations with deft sexual innuendos and overly modern clichéed passages with less effective jokes. Some of the fight choreography by Mic Matarrese was well performed while other parts were restrained.

The cast moved effortlessly through this production well supported by the exquisite set design by Nick Embree and costuming by Andrea Barrier. The set had elements of farce: the gold gilding of the Dupont home was painted macaroni and the statuary was covered in ways to be sexually discreet while around these statues men and women cavorted, lied, and perverted these same sexual mores. Barrier dressed her innocent females in flowing dresses in soft, virginal colors while the courtesan was costumed provocatively with enough coverage to support the extreme activities required. Barrier also succeeded with the men’s costumes: they undressed to reveal their garters and underclothing without causing anyone to feel uncomfortable.

Stephen Pelinski and Torrey Hanson in ANYTHING TO DECLARE? Photo: Nadine Howatt.

Stephen Pelinski and Torrey Hanson in ANYTHING TO DECLARE? Photo: Nadine Howatt.

ANYTHING TO DECLARE? is a sexual romp of both unsatisfied and more-than-satisfied passions. The romp flows around a set of stylized stock characters. The distinguished and yet flawed Benjamin Dupont is played with great panache by Stephen Pelinski while his dictatorial, worldly-wise wife, Adelaide Dupont, is given much life by Kathleen Pirkle Tague. The unsatisfied new bridegroom, Robert De Trivelin (Mic Matarrese) with his unknowingly unfulfilled wife, Paulette (Deena Burke) provided snickers, laughs and guffaws as they tried to “get together”.

REP put a truly ensemble cast together as each character was well drawn and executed in its own right from the flighty and conniving maids (both played by a dynamic Maggie Kettering) through the stalwart family friend (Torrey Hanson) to the sister (Erin Partin) and her fiancé Matthew Simpson. While the entire cast supported this production, there were some standouts. La Baule, played most amusingly with touches of PeeWee Herman by Michael Gotch, entertained the audience with his antics and extreme physicality throughout the production. Kudos also to Dougfred Miller playing Frontignac, a country character brought in to tie two of the myriad plot threads together. Playing a courtesan must be a joy to do as your personal filters must be disconnected and your physical attributes are always at the front of the performance. Elizabeth Heflin playing Madame Zeze certainly showed us the joy she was having in gliding, leaping and sliding around her studio to guide her various visitors close to and away from each other.

The REP can be very pleased with ANYTHING TO DECLARE?. While succeeding in providing an accurate look at a very successful form of early 20th century theatre, they managed to entertain a 21st-century audience … not an easy task with the sophistication of modern audiences and the stylization of farce.

Written by Maurice Hennequin and Pierre Veber
Translated and adapted by Greg Leaming
Directed by Steve Tague
November 15 – December 9, 2012
Resident Ensemble Players (REP) at Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Road
Newark, DE 19711

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