Wednesday, November 21, 2012

UD REP Ensemble's absurdest French farce "Anything To Declare"

Philadelphia professional sports teams are having an off year. The Phillies's Chase Utley and Ryan Howard suffered injuries and below par batting averages; the Eagles are imploding and the Sixer's long sought after big man, Andrew Bynum, has mysterious bone bruises.
The UD REP Ensemble - without doubt our state's greatest theatre - is suffering through its own sort of malaise. It is not the acting...which is always impeccable. And certainly not the other 'actors' in the production; the set, costumes and sound. It is the choice of shows.
This fourth season opened with an Irish play, “The Weir”. Even the director suggested in his notes it might be retitled “The Weird”. Aisle Say agrees.
Set in a desolate pub on a desolate night, tales of ghosts and the supernatural are shared by the characters in attendance. These yarns of love and loss were preternaturally talky talky and went nowhere.
Second up and currently playing is the French farce “Anything To Declare”. Sandy Robbins, Producing Artistic Director of this professional group, has consistently prodded, provoked and piqued his audiences. These two selections, however, had me scratching my head. Neither are classic examples of their genre.
Oui, madames et monsieurs, “Declare” is an example of turn of the century French vaudeville and debuted in 1906. Vaudeville features intricate and implausible plots with no pretense of a moral conclusion. So, in that context, it is a learning experience for the audience. In “Declares” case, however, there is a disconnect between the pushing of the artistic envelope and entertainment. Part of the disconnect is the use of contemporary catch phrases such as 'for pete's sake', 'scam', 'seal the deal'. In a 1906 setting in France?
An analogy would be the reason that George Gershwin's music in his many stage shows are not more popularly performed. It's due to the impossibly sophomoric and dated plots. The plot of “Declare” is simply too absurdest for even those familiar with farce to embrace. The laugh lines seemed forced.
There were scattered tittering circulating through the theatre during this production. Nothing, though, to compare with the mass eruptions of hysteria in the French farce “The Imaginary Invalid” of REP's premiere season, followed by year two's “Midsummer Night's Dream” or last year's “Skin Of Our Teeth”.
The extremely talented ensemble maintains their excellence. Michael Gotch, Elizabeth Heflin, Mic Matarrese, Stephen Pilinski and Kathleen Pirkl Tague are consummate actors.
Next up in January Sandy Robbins once again pioneers into unknown territory with the first DE production of “The Threepenny Opera”, lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill. For those of you over 50, you may remember Bobby Darrin making his signature song “Mac the Knife”.
Through December 9. 302.2204

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