North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, Raleigh
Through Sept. 29
Playwright David Ives is sort of asking for it in The Metromaniacs, a semi-meta rhyming play that mainly criticizes rhyming plays and those who craft them.
One central character—if the nebulous meringue of this comedy can be said to have a center—is Francalou (a delightfully distracted Rob Jenkins), a wealthy but artistically hopeless rhyming playwright who repeatedly threatens to read from his disastrous new tome, Bucephalus: A Dirge in Seven Acts.
“The man’s a dilettante! A would be poet! / A dime-store rhymester ‘artist,’ quote unquo-et,” apoplectic tastemaker Demis (a rewarding Aaron C. Alderman) complains. And that verse, in turn, provides a fair example of the general state of wit and scansion in Ives’s own work, a giddy revival of an obscure French comedy whose slams on poetic excess are composed almost entirely of iambs in varying meters.
Cunning maid Lisette (an engaging Morgan Piner) terms metromania—an eighteenth-century craze for poetry—as “an inflammation of the mental bursa / where verse becomes your vice, and vice-a-versa.” This, after valet and “gifted scamp” Mondor (a crisp Gus Allen) dismisses poets as “nerds / Two empty pockets and some ten-franc words!”
Ives’s weightless plot has versifiers of varying stripes and an unpoetic schlub Dorante (Sean A. Brosnahan, in a welcome return to the local stage), competing for the hand—and sizable dowry—of the bubble-headed Lucille (played to comedic perfection by Tara Nicole Williams). Friction is provided by the prickly judge Baliveau (JR Harris, in another welcome return), who’s reduced at one point to comic howls.
Just before mistaken identities and lifelong partnerships are sorted out, Alderman’s Demis frets through Ives’s fine and knowing monologue in which a nervous playwright surfs the treacherous emotions of an opening night: “And at a stroke I doubt my every word / My cast seems talent-free, my play absurd,” he despairs, before other changes follow.
The Metromaniacs is a frippery which lives only as long as its wordplay stays aloft. Though Ives’s script has varying degrees of buoyancy, co-directors David Henderson and Susannah Hough’s worthy ensemble keep it in the air.
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