Georges Feydeau’s spirit of farce and matrimonial dysfunction is alive and well in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Those amongst us who have savoured the deliciously forbidden ecstasy of illicit intercourse in a “rooms-by-the-hour” flophouse (or dreamed of some) should promptly take their seats at the Shaw’s Hotel Peccadillo.
Two hours of Viagra jokes, cross-dressing (in the best Monty Python tradition of “suspendees and a bra”), jiggling cleavage and bobbling boxers will most certainly tickle the funny bone and engage the eye. But, like the hapless shrink and sex hound, Dr. Pinglet (Patrick Galligan soars and salivates as required—anyone who has ever spoken to themselves will revel in his two-sided declamations), be careful not to laugh too knowingly or your partner might begin to realize just why you also seem to come home so refreshed and relaxed after spending yet another night tending to your perpetually ailing Auntie!
Feydeau’s ever-popular “Hôtel du Libre-Echange” (premièred in 1904 Paris) has been unfaithfully (er, just a joke from this side of the lights, OK?) adapted and directed by the deft (occasionally demented) mind and imagination of Morris Panych. At its best (the dead playwright—rendered with flair, fun and fervour by Lorne Kennedy—as the ghostly host and innkeeper works brilliantly), this version is often tears-in-your-eyes hilarious. But at the opposite end of the giggle meter, the yuks seem more for insiders (“What’s up?” offers permanently horny student Maxime—Jeff Irving, whose charm and physique sparkle in or out of his costumes—fails to pay off the crouching ensemble’s return to a fully, well, erect, state.).
Ken MacDonald most surely will receive this season’s award for most laughs from a set. With a marvellous perspective (evoking a mirror image of Toronto’s Flatiron Building) multi-door, two-storey hotel to play on, the sight gags frequently trump the script. Who could imagine the delivery of various-size towels by bellman Boulot (Mike Nadajewski’s transition from “shocked” new employee to strut-my-stuff participant is a joy to behold) to the pale-faced proprietor would turn into a showstopper?
To add even more sass and period tone to the zany proceedings, Ryan de Souza and his mini-band change the scenes and punch up the action with a delectable B-movie score that could be rented out for any private dick flick.
The troupe is further fleshed out by Pinglet’s wife, Angelique (Goldie Semple shines throughout), who’s solution to aging is a butt lift. Dr. Heindlich (played with panache by Anthony Bekenn, who also doubles as the wayward Father Chevret), Angelique’s ever-obliging master of liposuction, leaves no cheek unturned in his diligent undertakings.
Paillardin, Pinglet’s prize patient, confesses his sins on the couch and is stymied in the bedroom by his critical nature and profession—seems he can’t find perfection in food, clothing or women. Benedict Campbell has great fun with the role—particularly his overdose from erectile enhancers that send him hot on the trail (it must be hot since he spends much of this chase without his trousers) of Ludmila. Ludmila (Laurie Paton’s thick Russian delivery brings down the house—far funnier than the soon tiresome spittle-filled delivery by the cast of the final syllable in Heindlich) is the in-charge attendant of three voluptuous flygirls who, along with co-pilot Mathieu (David Leyshon) have landed a week early at the randy psychiatrist’s for an orgy that won’t count as cheating: “It’s not wrong to have sex with a girl if she’s from another country.” Boy did that line produce some anxious cheers and pent-up memories from the bus-tour crowd!
The plot thickens (and that’s not all) with the revelation that Pinglet has the extreme hots for Paillardin’s sexually starved wife. Trish Lindström cooks up a Victoire that is sexy, naïve and petulant as required, making the most of the upheaving fabric (replete with a blindfold for the fetishists in the house) as she, along with everyone else, converge on Feydeau’s hotel for a night of unbridled adultery.
Once there, Act II is a riot of “vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” The gags continue (from Botox to a police line-up photo op), interspersed with marvellous bits of business, dancing between scenes (Devon Tullock is a standout at every turn) and a series of rhyming couplets (making Stratford uneasy) as the couples reunite and wax philosophical before disappearing into the night.
Wish that more excursions to near-infidelity could turn out just as happily for the rest of us. JWR