It’s hard to imagine that someone would want to resurrect playwright Alexis Piron’s 17th century farce, “La Métromanie,” but director Michael Kahn did and he commissioned playwright David Ives (“The Liar,” “Don Juan in Chicago”) to adapt the play, or what he calls a “translaptation” (translation/adaptation) of the work.
“This is the third play I’ve commissioned David to do,” Kahn said. “The first two were also French comedies from the 17th-century. I wanted to work with him again because he has a brilliant comedic sense, is a thoughtful translator/adapter, and a wonderful wordsmith.”
Kahn said he’d not heard of Piron before, and discovered he was quite successful during his time. When he began looking at the play, he realized it came only in French. “Luckily, David is totally fluent in French,” Kahn said. “And he thought it was a wonderful play and wanted to adapt it. His version takes place in the 18th-century, so it’s a little more modern. It’s a treasure in itself, and I hope other theaters will do it. It’s a fantastic play for actors.”
“The Metromaniacs” takes place in Paris, where in the 18th-century, poets of the day were like rock stars. It’s about an older man whose daughter is a dreamer and interested in writing. Indolent, she’s not involved in anything other than obsessing about the poems she likes. Her father writes a play to be performed at their home, hoping the girl in the play will bring back life to his daughter.
“There’s also a young poet who comes to the house under an assumed name,” Kahn said. “So everyone in the play at one point is involved, in one way or another, either loving poetry, writing poetry or not interested in poetry at all — just in love. As in a farce, there’s a mixup of identities. The actors take on other characters, which might be confusing, but it’s our job to make it clear.”
The cast, save two, is from the original production of “The Metromaniacs,” in association with Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. Local actors Benjamin Cole and Connor Sullivan are in the roles of servants.
“The visual aspects to a play like this are important,” Kahn said. “So the costumes are wonderful and the set is ingenious. The play was originally written to be performed in a real outdoor garden, but David got the brilliant idea to make an inside garden in a ballroom of this man’s house. It adds even more theatrically, as there are trees and people moving about; a little like in ‘Midsummer’s Night Dream.’ ”
Farces are appearing more and more on stages across the country and Kahn believes it’s because people want and need to laugh.
“Audiences enjoy really fast, wonderful, extreme situations,” Kahn said. “Everyone in a farce has to play things very serious, like their life depends upon it. They have to do things they would never dream of doing if they were behaving rationally. It’s very liberating sometimes to be outrageous and stupid, but in this case, also to have great wonderful language to speak, which has been written so well by David. His brilliant rhyming couplets become a language of its own and fun for the audience to listen.”
IF YOU GO: “The Metromaniacs” runs Jan. 30-March 6 on the Shiley Stage at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $29. (619) 234-5623. theoldglobe.org