Floyd King as Geronte and Carson Elrod as Crispin in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Heir Apparent,
directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Heir Apparent is quiet and subdued for about as many seconds as you can count on your two hands. Then Crispin (Carson Elrod) comes clamoring in the window and we’re off at full tilt until intermission. The story’s initial complication revolves around the desire Eraste (Andrew Veenstra) has to marry Isabelle (Meg Chambers Steedle) while lacking the necessary financial means. We soon layer on the ambition of his manservant Crispin, Isabelle’s mother Madame Argante (Nancy Robinet) and the holder of all the money that Eraste wants to get his grubby mitts on, Geronte (Floyd King). The only person without an agenda of their own is diminutive whipping boy Scruple (Clark Middleton), the lawyer summoned and repeatedly abused in the second act.
Seriously, you thought I was going to pan a play that has that much fun abusing lawyers?
It’s a whirlwind, madcap, fourth-wall-breaking, rhyming, asiding, many-joke-gliding play that works in more jokes than you’d expect to hear in a day. Much less two hours. It’s a good, light-hearted time which rarely missteps and is filled with contretemps and eventually the rhythm gets under your skin and is hard to shake, even a few days later when you’re writing your review.
Nancy Robinette as Madame Argante and Floyd King as Geronte in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Heir Apparent, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman.
The Heir Apparent is just plain fun and doesn’t aspire to much more than that, which is fine. The only additional cultural learning you’re going to get from it is that someone wrote the goofiest parts of Weekend at Bernie’s and its sequel several hundred years before the invention of film. There’s a lot of anachronisms piled on by adapter David Ives but some of the craziest bits are so core to the story that they clearly were there in the original Regnard script. It’s a somewhat fascinating thing – if you see much theater you’re used to seeing very different settings in time that are queued by the sets and costumes but unacknowledged by the unchanged dialog.
Here we have almost the opposite – Ives has updated the dialog and included mentions of Cadillacs and scores of other 20th-century bits, but director Michael Kahn has more or less kept period costumes and decor.
Floyd King as Geronte and Kelly Hutchinson as Lisette in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Heir Apparent, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Oh, let’s get the obligatory done here: as usual, Shakespeare Theater Company has created a visually rich & stunning set. Costume Designer Murell Horton is assured a Helen Hayes nomination for this one and Set Designer Alexander Dodge has put up a visually busy but not-distracting set that perfectly straddles the line between declining rich and Horders. I’m going to speak to the rest of the theater crew and suggest we just put in some “the STC set and costume was beautiful as we have come to expect blah blah blah” boilerplate somewhere we can just link to.
The only complaint I’d level at the show is that it needs some better pauses for audience laughter. Several bits were missed because everyone was still roaring from the last gag and it’s hard to defend the keep-on-moving imperative when you’re spending other moments speaking directly to the crowd. We came to see the show; don’t deprive us of parts of it because we’re enjoying it. Other than that minor quibble, everyone on stage is delightful and likable.
The Heir Apparent passes my personal “I couldn’t have seen this in another medium” test only barely, primarily on the strengths of the fourth-wall breaking and the fact that nobody would take a chance on something like this in TV or film. However it’s unique enough and enjoyable enough that I’m giving it a full pass from that metric. I enjoyed it so much that I’d recommend it without reservation.
The Heir Apparent performs now through October 23 at the Shakespeare Theater Company’s Lansburgh Theatre, located at 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004. Closest Metro stop is pretty much a wash between Gallery Place/Chinatown (Red/Yellow/Green lines) and Archives/Navy Memorial (Yellow/Green lines). For more information call 202-547-1122.