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Theater Wed Mar 05 2014
Photo by Anthony Acardi.
The Artistic Home is staging Les Parents Terribles, a sexy family farce by Jean Cocteau that will warm you up in this long deep-freeze winter. Director John Mossman keeps his five actors moving at a frenetic pace as he tells the story of one family's tangled love lives. The play begins manically and never slows down.
Kathy Scambiatterra plays Yvonne, an unhealthy or hypochondriac mother who wants to keep her 22-year-old son, Michael (Julian Hester), entwined in maternal affection. Possibly too much maternal affection. She's horrified when she finds out that Michael is in love with Madeleine (Allie Long), a bookbinder. Her husband George (Frank Nall) is an inventor who is building an "underwater submachine gun." And he's been having an affair with Madeleine, but doesn't want Michael to know that.
Organized and orderly Aunt Leo (Miranda Zola) who lives with the family anarchy, has always been in love with George and determines that she will find a way to unite the young lovers. She sighs at one point, "Who knows what lurks in this rag and bone shop of the heart?" George explains the gravity of the Michael-Madeleine situation by pointing out that Yvonne "would rather hold his corpse than see him in someone else's arms."
Each cast member performs with meticulous style and energy, but Hester does especially well as the just-past-adolescent boy-man Michael. Whether he's assuring his mother he still loves her or frolicking in Madeleine's bathtub, his performance is perfectly madcap. (The friend who accompanied me to this play said she was exhausted from watching him and needed to go home to rest.)
Corinne Bass' set design for the whirlwind three-act play changes from massively messy to severely sterile and back again. But the set doesn't have quite enough doors for Les Parents to be considered a true farce. The stage for, say, a classic Georges Feydeau farce will be designed with at least six doors; the action features romps and chases through boudoirs and salons, with frequent door slamming. Les Parents has only two doors but there is plenty of fast action and door slamming.
Hanna Wisner's costumes are perfectly suited for this 1930s Paris bourgeois family.
If a three-act, two-and-a-half-hour play seems long, do not fear. The time flies. Jeremy Sams' translation is witty and sharp and the actors deliver the dialogue skillfully.
I usually don't think of Jean Cocteau as a farceur. He was a multitalented artist: poet, novelist, playwright, designer and filmmaker and very influential in avant-garde art. His friends were writers and artists like Proust, Gide, Satie, Picasso and Modigliani, people whose work does not seem frivolous. And Cocteau's best-known work is probably the gorgeous 1946 film, La Belle et la Bête (a not-at-all-Disneyesque version of Beauty and the Beast).
Les Parents Terribles will run through April 13 at The Artistic Home, 1376 W. Grand Ave. Performances are Thursday through Sunday; times vary. Tickets are $28-32 and can be purchased online. See the theater website for more information.