David Hirson’s 1991 Moliere inspired comedy, written in iambic pentameter no less, only made it 25 performances at the Eugene O’Neill Theater the first time out. A subsequent West End production was a hit with Alan Cumming in it and then the strange thing happened: the Broadway flop became a favorite among the regional theaters. For a play that only ran 25 performances it is pretty well known. Now Matthew Warchus has directed a West End revival and moved it to Broadway for a fall run starring Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce and Joanna Lumley––well known to the London stage and TV fans of “Absolutely Fabulous,” making her Broadway debut. The performances from the main three carry the show and few things on the boards are as wondrous and deliciously funny as Mark Rylance as Valere the fop, running off at the mouth for a solid 30 minutes before taking a breath to let David Hyde Pierce as Elomire get a word in edgewise. Elomire is the court supported head of the royal acting troupe and Valere enters to destroy good taste and run away with the “new” acting company under his empty guidance and vapid plays. Valere is nothing but hot air––almost literally as he startlingly releases in burps and farts––while Elomire seems to be the only one to hold firm against the deterioration of good form and educated thought.
The production is presented in a near two hours without intermission and it bubbles along swiftly to an end without giving one a chance to fully embrace the bigger ideas at hand (a man behind me uttered: “That’s the play?” after the final moment). It takes a bit of thought and conversation to put it all together after the laughs have petered out, which is the kind of play that Elomire hopes for, but is saying good-bye to.
Set and costume design was by Mark Thompson who gave us floor to infinity book cases stacked with books and his 17th Century costumes were understated on the right people and beautifully over done on the other right people. If the play lost in 1991 just as Elomire seems to in the play, this time he actually won. This revival isn’t lasting a full season, but it’s done much better than the original production and will continue to delight in regional theaters just as it has for the past two decades.