by DAVID IVES
Adapted from ALEXIS PIRON’s
directed by MICHAEL KAHN
April 10 - May 20, 2018
a New 42ND STREET® project
229 West 42nd Street
(between 7th & 8th)
It’s springtime in Paris, 1738. Metromania, the poetry craze, is all the rage. Damis, a young, would-be poet with a serious case of verse-mania falls for a mysterious poetess from Breton. She turns out to be none other than a wealthy gentleman with a touch of the mania himself—looking to unload his sexy but dimwitted daughter—who also just happens to be cuckoo for couplets. Soon scheming servants, verbal acrobatics, and mistaken identities launch a breathless series of twists and turns in this breezy “translaptation” of a rediscovered French farce by comedic master David Ives (The Liar, Venus in Fur, All in the Timing).
“Frisky, competitive wordplay and high-octane mix ups ...almost criminally enjoyable.”
"Frolicsome verse comedy…Ives’s cleverness is indisputable, and he excels at a rare sort of verbal glitter. Michael Kahn’s production is physically exquisite—Murell Horton’s costumes are particularly dazzling—the performers nail the gossamer tone.”
—Time Out New York
“Ives [is] wizardly … magical and funny … a master of language. He uses words for their meanings, sounds and associations, spinning conceits of a sort I’ve not seen or heard before. He’s an original.”
—The New York Times
“Disguises and ruses and verse-ical abuses.”
by David Ives
Frankly, I fell in love with the title.
Having enjoyed myself enormously adapting some French comedies of the 17th and 18th centuries, I was casting around for another. In the course of reading about that period, I stumbled again and again upon mention of an obscure play from 1738 with a superb title: La Métromanie. It means, more or less, The Poetry Craze. (“Metro” from “metrum,” Latin for poetic verse, and “mania” from… Oh, never mind.)
So I ordered the French text from the Internet and it arrived in a blurry offprint with an introduction by a huffy scholar who heartily disapproved of the play and all its amoral characters. Now I was really interested. When I read that the play’s author, Alexis Piron, was a poet who had failed to make the Académie Française because he’d written a lengthy Ode To The Penis, I was definitely interested.
Upon inspection, La Métromanie turned out to be chaste and delightful. Its world is the airy, unmoored, Watteau-ish one that Piron’s contemporary Marivaux would also put onstage. There’s not much like realism in The Metromaniacs. We’re in a levitated reality that’s the exact opposite of the vernacular, set-in-an-inn comedies the English were writing at the same time. This is champagne, not ale.
The play was a Page Six scandal in its time, spinning into art what had been real-life comedy. It seems that all Paris had fallen in love with the poems of one Mademoiselle Malcrais de La Vigne, a mysterious poetess from distant Brittany (read: Appalachia). The celebrated satirist Voltaire publicly declared his love for the lady and her great works, publicly offering to marry the poetess, only to have it revealed that said poetess was a guy named Paul Desforges-Maillard, living not in Brittany but in Paris and taking his revenge on the poetry establishment for not appreciating his genius. Needless to say, Voltaire wasn’t pleased when Piron’s satire showed up using a similar situation. Worse than that for Voltaire, the show was a hit.
The premise of the play seemed to me comic gold. The dramaturgical mechanics not so much. Piron was a wit and a poet but not much of what I’d call a farcifactor, often content to let his characters intone his ravishing couplets without paying much attention to who just exited where or why anybody’s doing anything. The play had not one but two male leads, a lackluster female ingénue and, like so many French plays of the period, it simply came to a stop rather than resolving. This is all by way of saying I’ve fiddled a lot with Piron’s masterpiece in translaptating it into English. (The first English version ever, to my knowledge, but I’m open to correction).
When my friends ask me what it’s about, I always say that The Metromaniacs is a comedy with five plots, none of them important. On the other hand, that’s the beauty of the play, and part of its delight. Piron doesn’t want plot. He wants gossamer and gorgeousness, he wants rarified air and helpless high-comic passion. A purer world. Characters drunk on language, mere mortals in love with poetry, fools in love with love. In other words, the way the world was meant to be.
Given what greets us in the morning newspaper these days, a few yards of gossamer may be just what the doctor ordered. Merci, Monsieur Piron. Mock on, Voltaire.
ABOUT THE CAST
Red Bull Theater: The School for Scandal. Originated this role at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and the Old Globe. Theatre credits include Desire Under the Elms (Broadway); The Liar (Classic Stage Company); Fulfillment (The Flea Theater); Other Desert Cities (Guthrie Theater); Venus in Fur (Studio Theatre & Pittsburgh Public); The Importance of Being Earnest (Old Globe); The Liar, The Beaux’ Stratagem, and Love’s Labor’s Lost (Shakespeare Theatre Company); four seasons with The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, three seasons with The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and one with The Acting Company. TV/Film: Unforgettable, The (718), and “Tough Crowd”. TRAINING: Rutgers University: BFA.
REGIONAL: The Lion in Winter (Two Rivers Theater); Bad Jews (The Studio Theater); My Name is Asher Lev (Portland Stage); Dracula, The Bachelors (Williamstown Theater Festival); Othello (Dir. Pam MacKinnon); Love's Labour's Lost, Romeo and Juliet, The Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare Santa Cruz). FILM/TV: "The Bread Factory Pt. 1"; "The Good Fight." TRAINING: Juilliard, UC Santa Cruz.
Red Bull Theater: The Witch of Edmonton. NEW YORK: Signature, Primary Stages, Pearl, Second Stage Uptown; Playwrights Realm; 59e59, and many others. REGIONAL: Affiliated Artist with Shakespeare Theatre of DC (two Helen Hayes nominations for Midsummer Night’s Dream and the world premiere of The Liar); McCarter Theatre: Numerous, including Figaro in The Figaro Plays; Hartford Stage (CT Critics Circle nom.); Barrington Stage; Alley Theatre; La Jolla Playhouse; Actors Theatre of Louisville; Arena Stage; many others. TV: “The Good Wife,” “Madame Secretary,” “Billions.” TRAINING: Harvard: BA in English, NYU: MFA.
Shakespeare Theatre, Old Globe: Metromaniacs. NEW YORK: Broadway: Tony and Drama Desk Award production of Awake and Sing; Tony Award-nominated The Diary of Anne Frank; National Actor’s Judgment at Nuremberg. Off-Broadway: Beckett-Albee, Andorra, and Cymbeline. REGIONAL: Actors Theatre of Louisville, Huntington Theatre Company, La Jolla Playhouse, Syracuse Stage, McCarter Theatre, Virginia Stage Company, Goodman Theatre, Chautauqua Theatre, Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre, among others. INTERNATIONAL: Australia: St. Joan, The Four Poster. A native of Berlin, performed throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in von Kleist, Shakespeare, Moliere, Shaw, Hacks and Ustinov, also West Side Story, Cabaret. FILM/TV: "Spike Lee’s Inside Man","Miracle at St. Anna’s", "Escape to Freedom", "White Star", “As The World Turns” and TV appearances in Germany and Ireland. TRAINING: London’s Webber-Douglas school.
BROADWAY: Devil's Disciple; Our Country's Good; Summer & Smoke; Footloose; Mamma Mia; Guys and Dolls; Priscilla Queen of the Desert. OFF-BROADWAY: The Liar (Classic Stage Co.), Old Friends (Signature Theatre), Most Deserving (Women's Project), Marriage of Bette and Boo (Roundabout). REGIONAL: Metromaniacs (Shakespeare Theater & Old Globe). Also stints at Actors Theater Louisville, Alley Theater, Hartford Stage, Huntington Stage, La Jolla, Long Wharf, Yale Rep, and Williamstown. FILM: Numerous, from Return Of The Secaucus 7 in 1979; to most recent Almost Paris, The Rest Of Us, Ode to Joy. TV: Numerous, most recent, “The Sinner,” USA Network. Published 3 volumes of poetry: Everything All At Once; Ghost Light; A Swindler's Grace.
Red Bull Theater: ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. NEW YORK: Pride and Prejudice (Primary Stages); The Liar, The Heir Apparent (Classic Stage Co.); You Never Can Tell (The Pearl). REGIONAL: The General from America, Pride and Prejudice (Hudson Valley Shakes); Red Velvet, The Metromaniacs (The Old Globe); The Metromaniacs, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice (The Shakespeare Theatre); Ether Dome (La Jolla Playhouse, Hartford Stage, Huntington Theater); Hamlet, Glass Menagerie, The Liar (Denver Center); Legacy of Light (Cleveland Playhouse); Diary of Anne Frank (Virginia Stage Co.) TV: “Good Wife,” “Blue Bloods,” “Shades of Blue,” “Blacklist.” TRAINING: Juilliard.
NEW YORK: Off-Broadway: Tribes, Clever Little Lies. REGIONAL: The Metromaniacs (Shakespeare Theatre Company and The Old Globe); Everything You Touch (Contemporary American Theater Festival); Tribes (La Jolla Playhouse); 10x10, See How They Run (Barrington Stage); I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard, Bad Jews, Distracted, Miss Witherspoon (Unicorn Theatre); Release Point, Washed Up (Berkshire Playwrights Lab.) OTHER: Staged readings for Red Bull Theater, Project Y, The Lark and National New Play Network. Dina is currently hard at work writing her one woman piece, Tales of a NONgénue to be performed next year. TRAINING: University of Missouri-Kansas City.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHTS
There are few playwrights who love language as much as David Ives. “I think everything should be in verse,” Ives has said. “The New York Times and cookbooks should be in verse. Verse raises the level.”
Born in Chicago in 1950, Ives entered Yale School of Drama in 1981, where he began bending the world to his inimitable rhythms. New York magazine once named him one of the 100 smartest New Yorkers, a distinction he has called the greatest tragedy of his life.
All in the Timing (1993), a breakneck evening of witty dialogue, ran for over 600 performances off-Broadway. In 1995-1996, it was the most-performed play in the country. In 2013-2014, Ives repeated this coup with Venus in Fur, his Tony Award-nominated play, which Roman Polanski turned into a film. He is currently collaborating with Stephen Sondheim on a much-anticipated musical based on two films of Luis Buñuel.
All of which makes his comfort in the classical theatre—and his facility with verse—even more impressive. The Liar and The Heir Apparent, Ives’s rhymed-verse translations of French comedy commissioned by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, have quickly become industry standards, and he credits working in this form with transforming his experience of reality. “Once I started working in verse,” Ives says, “I would walk down the streets and translate bus ads into verse, just to see how they’d sound. Know what? Bus ads are always better in iambic pentameter.”
One of the most widely produced comic writers of the 18th century, Alexis Piron (1689-1773) lived a life dogged by controversy. He had an uncanny ability to make powerful enemies and as a result, he is all but forgotten today. Born in Burgundy in 1689, Piron moved to Paris in the early 1720s, eager to be a poet. But instead of garnering glory at the Comédie Française – the theatre of King Louis XV – Piron worked at Paris’ unofficial fairground theatres. At these théâtres de la foire, Parisians came to have a naughty good time, classical decorum be damned. Arlequin Deucalion (1722), an ingenious dramatic monologue sprinkled with satirical jabs at contemporary authors and actors, established Piron as an anarchic, dangerous wit.
In 1738, Piron produced his masterpiece, at, of all places, the Comédie Française. Inspired by a real-life literary scandal involving Voltaire, La Métromanie brings the literary pretensions of the ruling classes down to the parterre of public opinion. The play was a popular success and one that Voltaire would not forget. Piron was nominated to the Académie Française (of which Voltaire was a member) in 1753. Citing his artistic improprieties, Louis XV vetoed him. Though he lived a long life of material comfort, Piron never again wrote for the Comédie Française. For his epitaph in 1776, Piron wrote his final, and most famous, couplet:
Ci-gît Piron, qui ne fut rien
Pas même académicien.
As David Ives translates it:
Here lies Piron, a nothing, an anatomy.
He couldn’t even make the French Academy.
ABOUT THE CREATIVE TEAM
Scenic Design: JAMES NOONE
Costume Design: MURELL HORTON
Lighting Design: BETSY ADAMS
Composer: ADAM WERNICK
Sound Design: MATT STINE
Production Stage Management: KRISTIN M. HERRICK
Press Representative: DAVID GERSTEN AND ASSOCIATES
Casting by LAURA STANCZYK, CSA
Additional Casting by CARTER C. WOODELL and STUART HOWARD