Farce and Tour de Force
By By Edwin Wilson, The Wall Street Journal, 903 words
Mar 8, 1989
Copyright Dow Jones & Company Inc Mar 8, 1989.
New York -- Maggie, the daughter of an opera impresario and the girlfriend of his assistant, is hiding in a closet in a hotel bedroom. If she is discovered, there will be disaster for all concerned. A famous singer staying at the hotel goes to the door to deposit a coat and suitcase, but when he opens it, Maggie has successfully hidden and is nowhere in sight. Suddenly the singer opens the door again and the audience waits expectantly for the ill-timed discovery, but again, no Maggie. Then he opens the closet door a third time, and the audience, this time expecting an empty space, sees Maggie standing there like a hatcheck girl in a restaurant ready to receive the coat and bag. The sudden twist, the rightness of the image of the hatcheck girl -- these are drawn from the essence of farce, and in "Lend Me a Tenor" at the Royale, Ken Ludwig has created that rare thing -- an American farce.
The story takes place in Cleveland in 1934. Tito Merelli (Ron Holgate), an Italian tenor known as Il Stupendo, is making a guest appearance at the Cleveland Opera. The local impresario (Philip Bosco) and his nervous assistant (Victor Garber) are panicked because it looks as if Il Stupendo will not be able to perform. Meanwhile, the women involved, the impresario's daughter Maggie (J. Smith-Cameron), the soprano in the local company (Caroline Lagerfelt) and the chairwoman of the opera guild (Jane Connell), are madly in love with the tenor, whose jealous, temperamental wife (Tovah Feldshuh) is also on hand. The opera to be performed is "Otello" and before the evening is over, we not only have innumerable romantic mishaps, we also have two Othellos, dressed and looking exactly alike. Even more important than the plot convolutions are the five doors in Tony Walton's stylish art-deco hotel set. And even more important is our good luck that the doors work at the behest of Jerry Zaks, the finest director of farce we have just now.
Mr. Zaks has orchestrated not only the split-second timing of the doors, but a veritable feast of other visual effects. Frequently, for example, the action in the hotel bedroom will precisely mirror the action in the adjoining sitting room, whether the activity is a temper tantrum or lovemaking. This is done so well, with such precision and elan, that one watches with unbounded admiration as well as immense pleasure.