August 15, 1997 by Julio Martinez

Pacific Resident Theatre presents a play in three acts by Jean Anouilh, translated by Lucienne Hill. Directed by Alec Doyle. Set, Kurt Wahiner; costumes. Audrey Eisner; lighting, Deena Lynn Mullen; sound, Alexandra Enberg. Opened Aug. 10; reviewed Aug. 11th; Cast: Richard Fancy (The General), Cheryl Deeley (Ada), Will Rothhaar (Toto), Michael Rothhaar (Count), Kathleen Garrett (Countess), Robert Lee Jacobs (Villardieu), David Rogge (Nicholas), Shannon Fill (Natalie), Jessie Clemens (Marie-Christine), David Dionisio (The Hunchback), Sharron Shayne (Emily), Leadre Subos (Ardele). Throughout his many stage works, the 20th century French dramatist Jean Anouilh (1910-87) expressed great pessimism that society could ever rise above slavish addiction to base physical appetites and petty social conventions to attain anything resembling pure love or true spirituality. Given a thoroughly captivating staging by the Venice-based Pacific Repertory Theatre, the seldom-produced tragicomedy “Ardele” very clearly underscores Anouilh’s jaundiced view of the mass of civilized folk he lived among.

The play is set at a French country estate during the deceptively “innocent” time just before the outbreak of World War I, and director Alec Doyle adroitly utilizes elements of earlier French farce and Italian commedia dell’arte to highlight the morally bankrupt shenanigans of a wealthy family that has gathered at the urgent insistence of the head of the family, the General (Richard Fancy). With adroit pacing and timing of entrances and exits, Doyle maintains a perfect balance between the often hilarious misdeeds of these foolish people and the devastating tragedy they effect on the only two truly worthwhile lives among them. Played to a level of bluster and pomposity that would do credit to the likes of Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Fancy’s General is thoroughly dismissive of deep feelings, stating, “Love has one arch-enemy and that is life.” To that end, he has self-righteously imprisoned his hunchbacked old maid sister. Ardele (unseen), in her room because she has had the temerity to transcend her physical deformity, falling in love with and wanting to marry the equally hunchbacked tutor (David Dionisio) of the General’s youngest son, Toto (Will Rothhaar). To assist in his efforts to make Ardele come to her senses, the General has marshaled the family forces, which include Ardele’s vain and amoral younger sister, the Countess (Kathleen Garrett), her philosophical but ineffectual husband, Count (Michael Rothhaar), the Countess’ rigidly uptight lover, Villardieu (Robert Lee Jacobs), the General’s passionate but still-innocent grown son, Nicholas (David Rogge), Nicholas’ sister-in-law and former childhood love, Natalie (Shannon Fill), and the Countess’ young daughter, Marie-Christine (Jessie Clemens). Rounding out the household are the bloodless maid, Ada (Cheryl Dooley), who matter-of-factly services the General’s still-ravenous sexual desires, and the screaming visage of the General’s wife, Emily (Sharron Shayne), who has been driven to insanity by her husband’s infidelities.

Among a generally excelleni ensemble there are three performances that capture perfectly the aura of Anouilh’s soulless menagerie. Garrett’s Countess manages to be simultaneously comical and forlorn, keeping her lover always at hand while exuding jealousy and deep hurt at her husband’s minor tiysts. As the less-than-satisfied swain Villardieu, Jacobs’ handsome visage looks out at the world like chiseled marble, reacting with hilarious indignation at his underused status. In her one scene, Shayne offers a harrowing but riveting soliloquy on Emily ‘s soul-ravaging awareness of all the lust her husband has spewed forth on others throughout their marriage. The performances are wonderfully supported by the manydoored, upstairs/downstairs set design of Kurt Wahlner, the beautifully modulated lighting of Deena Lynn Mullen, the atmospheric sound design of Alexandra Enberg and the correct period costuming of Audrey Eisner. — Julio Martinez

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