Following Remy Bumppo’s visually lovely but conceptually DOA production of Changes of Heart, an 18th century romantic French farce by Pierre de Marivaux and wittily translated by Stephen Wadsworth, I posted the following facebook status, and my friends quickly piped in:
Me: I’m pretty sure if you’re gonna direct a farce, doing it in the style of a Pinter play isn’t the best idea.
Friend #1: Not even for the camp factor?
Me: I think camping up a farce with Pinter is just too many layers, don’t you?
Friend #2: It’s winter. Layers are important.
Friend #3: I like to style my farces like Brecht. Where at first you laugh, then they stare at you for laughing and make you feel alienated and alone.
Friend #4: Of course, if it was really Brechtian there wouldn’t be a need for an audience in the first place.
While director Timothy Douglas’ production doesn’t go into Brechtian territory, he does attempt to modernize this otherwise charming commentary about romance between social classes by doing things like setting it in the 1960s and adding a layer of racial overtones. Which would be fine if doing so adds something to the play, but the only things reminding us of this production’s intended era are the costumes, scenery (both of which are lovely) and music transitions, which are hilariously lip-synced by a sassy gay houseboi (Jake Szczepaniak, whose “rendition” of an upbeat Edith Piaf number is a thing of beauty). Otherwise, it’s just a charming period farce that seems lost at sea in a haze of paisley, mini-dresses and go-go boots. It’s a comedy with an identity crisis.
But the bigger problem is the overall tone of the piece. Inexplicably, Douglas has weighed the evening down by directing his talented cast to deliver their lines in a somber, nearly trance-like tone, rife with extended pauses and blank stares. It’s positively Pinteresque! And excruciatingly dull.
The result is a dreary evening with a few shining moments of comedy (mostly delivered by Szczepaniak and Nicolas Gamboa who plays lover Harlequin by channeling Puss in Boots — an effort that, unfortunately, is jarringly out of synch with the rest of this melancholic production). The final moments of this 2 hour and 45 minute evening do pick up steam, but by that point the farce has long deflated.
“Changes of Heart” plays through January 8 at the Greenhouse Theater Center at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Get tickets here >