April 2nd, 2010

La Loge

Lend Me A Tenor

We never go to Wednesday matinees.  Too much like lollygagging, I guess, plus a girl gotta draw the line somewhere.  But Ellen's parents are in town for the holidays, we'd bought the tickets for them, they decided they'd rather see South Pacific (and who could blame them?), and we're not the women to let a pair go begging.  So we abandoned the broken dishwasher and the plates piled on the dining table and fled took the subway to The Great White Way for a little light entertainment.

Which we most certainly got.  Lend Me A Tenor is a perfect classic farce in the fine old tradition of Feydeau, complete with slamming doors, girls hiding in closets and bathrooms, hi-jinx, over-complicated intrigues, double entendres, and mistaken identities.  It is set in 1934, and sufficiently true to the feel of the period that I was astonished to discover that its first production was in London in 1986.

A lot of the comedy depends on the twists and turns of a truly Byzantine plot.  Since some of you might actually be in a position to see the play, it would be unfair of me to say too much about who does what to whom and why (not that I can remember--I don't tend to retain plot points).  I can tell you that the set is beautiful, in an overblown hotel-suite kind of way, the costumes are catnip to a clothing slut like myself, the directing is crisp and beautifully timed, as farce must be.  Tony Shalub as an irascible opera producer is extremely funny, as is an actor called Jay Klaitz who does his level best to make a real person out of an opera-struck bellhop who bounces in and out of the action like a human rubber ball.  I was very fond of Anthony LaPaglia, too, as the eponymous tenor, who turns on a dime from lust to uxoriousness, from despair to confusion, from star quality to human concern for a fellow artist, without ever losing his character along the way.   The women are good, too, given that their roles are generally more cardboard than the men's.  Which is, come to think of it, also a feature of classic farce.

Besides the flatness of the female characters, my only real complaint is that The Greatest Tenor of His Generation has a voice I would describe as perfectly pleasant, and the Other Tenor Who Wows The Audience has a voice I would describe as adequate.  I found it hard to believe either one of them would actually be able to make it all the way through a performance of Otello without falling flat on his face.  Also, I gotta say, this one didn't really stick with me.  Although I laughed a lot as we watched it, I don't retain a single line.  But why should I?  It's not a play about the words.  It's about the way Tony Shalub slowly curls his body into a comma of torment as he realizes that his Show May Not Go On, the way Justin Bartha as the assistant dog's body Max gains mass and years at the swish of a cloak, the way the wonderful Jan Maxwell as the Tenor's wife tears the bed apart in a jealous Italian temper tantrum. 

It also has the best curtain call I think I've ever seen, in which the entire cast runs about the stage, reprising the whole play in a series of well-chosen moments, ending with the ingenue and the assistant dog's body locked in a well-earned romantic dip.  The Wednesday afternoon matinee crowd loved it to pieces.  And so, really, did I.