By Charlene Baldridge
Farce. Usually. Has. High absurdity content.
The U.S. premiere of Kenneth McLeish’s (1940-1997) English translation of Georges Feydeau’s “Now You See It,” is no exception. Farce is beloved at North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT), where it plays through March 27 in a splendid looking production directed by Bruce Turk.
A San Diego Critics Circle Craig Noel Award-winner for his portrayal of Leontes in “The Winter’s Tale” (2005), Turk is remembered for 14 additional Shakespeare roles during the Old Globe Shakespeare Festival and also for his more recent staging of “Faded Glory” and “Freud’s Last Session” at NCRT.
In Turk’s staging, McLeish’s translation places “Now You See It” in Great Britain around 1910. Thus the characters are English citizens instead of French. Turk’s eye for casting is as impeccable as his acting acumen. Kern McFadden portrays Summersby, a philandering husband who berates his attractive wife (attractive Allison Minick as Marie-Louise) for suspecting him of cheating. A splendid woman in every way, she is absolutely right: Her first husband (now deceased) had the round heels as well and broke her heart.
During the heartbreak phase of her first marriage, Marie-Louise and husband No. 1 lived in India, and during her initial marital disillusionment she almost succumbed to the ardent Shaftesbury-Phipps (David McBean). Having found out only now of her bereavement (news traveled slow in those days, apparently), he has traveled to England to claim her, only to find her remarried and in a similar situation as before.
Hail-fellow-well-met, Summersby seizes the opportunity to further distract Marie-Louise (he already employs the science of hypnotism) and invites Shaftesbury-Phipps to live in the couple’s summerhouse.
Privy to all these shenanigans is the thoroughly incompetent, alcoholic, household factotum, Oriole (John Greenleaf, an adept physical comedian, who loses his shoe hilariously to the family dog in the first scene).
The further human complication is Summersby’s current inamorata, (the unseen) wife of the formidable, always-ready-to-make-a-deal wine merchant, Vole (Ruff Yeager), who discovers his wife in a trance and threatens to dismember Summersby. Vole is more concerned with his reputation than he is by the infidelity. Casting is particularly brilliant here, for Yeager’s initial entrance capitalizes on his immensity – a colossal sight gag.
My favorite moment of calm amid chaos is Oriole making his mistress comfortable after she’s been put to “sleep” — he places a Caruso aria on the wind-up phonograph (sound designer Melanie Chen) and lovingly covers her with a blanket, knowing its likely to be a long evening.
Marty Burnett creates a scrumptious, detailed English country home. Anastasia Pautova presents a parade of period style, with Marie-Louise’s frock and its permutations taking the cake for beauty and McBean’s for foppishness. Her attire for Yeager and Greenleaf are a hoot as well. Matthew Novotny’s lighting captures summer in the country, and Peter Herman’s wigs are as always, top drawer.
Why this one seems somewhat unsatisfying despite having landed so squarely in the casting, direction and finely turned production departments, is puzzling. Perhaps it’s because “Now You See It” has fewer characters than other Feydeau farces. Perhaps it’s because unlike most farces, the subject matter is darker and more threatening than usual. Or perhaps, as they say, too much thinking precludes complete satisfaction.
— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.