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Allyson Boate as Mimi

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A Comedy of Tenors, a grand slam-bang farce with a little Traviata on the side

by Jill Kyle-Keith DC Theatre Scene

A farce, a farce! My kingdom for a farce! Fortunately, you won’t have to pay such a high price for this one- though, it’s worth it. Ken Ludwig, acclaimed author of Lend Me A Tenor, revisits the over-the-top world of opera and artists in this splendid A Comedy of Tenors, which features some of the same characters.

Farce, when well done, means nearly nonstop action and dialogue- and this grand piece rockets along like a Japanese bullet train. From the moment opera producer Saunders (the ebullient Alan Wade) enters and discovers underwear strewn about the elegant 1930s Paris hotel room, we know we’re in for a high lowbrow evening. And when said underwear is then frantically dispatched into the horn of the nearest Victrola, we know it’s going to be an evening of unexpected surprises as well.

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John Treacy Egan as Beppo and Patricia Hurley as Racón in Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors.(Photo: Stan Barouh)

Farce usually centers on a limited vocabulary of plotlines- mistaken identities, lovers’ quarrels, a multitude of slamming doors, a hysterical timeline that must be met or egad, all is lost! Yet Ludwig is such a fine writer that, though we know all will iron out in the end, the journey itself is such a joy that we relish every crazed look and doubletake.

Director Jason King Jones knows how to get the most from this übertalented cast: in particular, John Treacy Egan, who is just about perfect in the double role of Tito/Beppo: Tito is the bona fide Tenor, an opera star with an ego to match: he’s delightful, pompous and insecure at the same time; yet even more a delight is his Beppo, a doppelganger bellhop ‘discovered’ in the hall singing songs of Napoli as he unloads luggage. Such ‘coincidences’ are the bread and butter of farce, and Egan is a hoot and a half as Beppo, with his tinny, nonstop nattering and off-topic ruminations.

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Matthew Schleigh as Max, John Treacy Egan as Beppo, and Alan Wade as Saunders in Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors.(Photo: Stan Barouh)

Egan heads a cast that’s easy to love: as Maria, Tito’s wife, Emily Townley is dramatic, flamboyant, and has some of the best one-liners of the show, and watching Tito and Maria together is like watching a sparring match, it’s that much fun. Each of the six actors deserves a mention: Allyson Boate, as Mimi, Tito’s and Maria’s daughter, is a would-be movie actress, and makes every word out of her mouth as dramatic as possible; her suitor, Carl (Alan Naylor) is likewise as dramatic, and has a limber onstage presence, shifting from oops-we’re-discovered-under-the-blanket to a wonderful musical interlude with the two other tenors of the evening.

And a word about that: all three of the tenors, Egan, Naylor, and Matthew Schleigh as Max have a grand ‘rehearsal’ scene in which they sing a beautiful “Drinking Song” from La Traviata; (an intentional homage, this is a piece sung by the original real-life Three Tenors, Pavarotti, Carreras, and Domingo). It’s astoundingly good, and was rewarded with bravos and extended applause on opening night. A personal regret is that we weren’t rewarded with an encore.

Patricia Hurley as Racón only appears in the last half of the show, but wow, as blonde Russian bombshells go, she has a glorious time stirring up trouble.

The set design by Charlie Calvert is nicely multilevel- many stairs to make dramatic entrances on- many doors to slam- a balcony view of the Eiffel Tower so you can’t forget you’re in France- and an elegance as befits 1939 Paris. Costumes by Seth M Gilbert make statements of their own- Maria sports a besequined jacket that has a mind of its own, Mimi is in the quintessential bias-cut starlet evening gown, and you can’t take your eyes off of Racine’s outlandish furs and slinky blue gown. And the underwear! Maria appears in but a scene or two in a black negligee that seems to have curves built in, and Racine’s undergarments are both period and quaintly naughty. Mimi’s undergarments end up in the Victrola, as noted above.

A Comedy Of Tenors makes for a lovely night out – there’s hysteria and impossible coincidences and gorgeous costumes and performances that leave you as breathless.

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