By Evan Henerson
Cast takes the Geffen by farce
Modern situation comedy, particularly of the “Three’s Company” variety, owes a not-insubstantial debt to 19th-century French farceur Georges Feydeau. It could be argued that our sophistication level has progressed — or regressed — to such a degree that the door slamming, pants dropping, mistimed entrances of a bunch of aristocratic rubes can now seem little more than quaint. In “Monsieur Chasse,” an early-Feydeau sex farce playing at the Geffen, matters get so twisted that only one couple actually has sex, though many more want to.
The new version of “Chasse,” titled “He Hunts,” is a period and contemporary mishmash. Philip Littell’s new translation is relentlessly modern (“I’m not going to take the fall for you,” one character says), while the clothes and mannerisms are of an earlier age. Director David Schweizer — a frequent collaborator with Littell — also offers regular homage to the Italian commedia tradition that made Feydeau possible.
Violently silly though the plot might be, Schweitzer’s cast brings it off with flair, humor and no serious huffing and puffing. Especially delicious is a pair of comic performances Schweizer coaxes from Daniel Kucan and the always-wonderful Carol Kane. The three leads — Valarie Pettiford, Maxwell Caulfield and Stephen Nichols — hold their own as well.
Pettiford plays Leontine Duchotel, a mostly doting wife who fends off the repeated advances of Moricet (Nichols of “General Hospital”), her husband’s best friend. Less doting is Leontine’s husband, Monsieur Duchotel (Caulfield), whose frequent “hunting trips” are actually ruses allowing him to slip off to Paris to see a mistress.
When she finally gets wind of what her husband’s been up to, an enraged Leontine agrees to a liaison with Moricet. Conveniently, Moricet has just let a room in a Paris hotel. . .next to the one occupied by Monsieur Duchotel’s mistress. Factoring into the shenanigans is Duchotel’s dim nephew Gontreins (a scene-pilfering Kucan), who is having a fling with the former occupant of Moricet’s room (don’t ask!), a pair of pants, a dipsomaniacal concierge (Kane), a jilted husband and, ultimately, the police. Of some historical interest: “Monsieur Chasse” was one of the first uses of the phrase “Ciel, mon mari!” — loosely translated as “God! My husband!” and now a vaudevillian catch phrase.
The mix-ups and posturing are all played broadly (especially by Kane as a countess gone to seed). Asides come across in prerecorded dialogue, allowing us to hear what the characters are thinking in the midst of the mayhem. Even the scene changes are performed as a kind of dumb show in full view behind a diaphanous curtain — all part of the production’s theatrical self-awareness.
While the Geffen stage isn’t designed for multiple-scene, door-slamming versatility, Chris Barreca’s use of wall coverings, color changes and especially curtains makes it work. Anne Militello’s lighting helps considerably, and David Zinn’s frequently garish costumes often cause characters to match their surroundings.