Best of Show: director Bruce Turk devised an inspired curtain call. In the spirit of farceur Georges Feydeau, Turk pulls the equivalent of rabbits out of hats. Four of his five-member cast seek the fifth, named Oriole (John Greenleaf), the servant/guru sleeping off a brandy binge. They hop through doors and windows, magically pop out of the fireplace, and scamper about Marty Burnett’s elegant Edwardian sitting room.
The speed and stopwatch timing deserve a standing O — for the curtain call, that is, not the play.
The North Coast Rep is staging the American premiere of Kenneth McLeish’s wordy, windy, pace-killing translation of Feydeau’s Now You See It — because no one else would?
The original premise works. Summersby (Kern McFadden) is a “man of affairs,” literally. While he advocates women’s suffrage in 1910 Parliament, in private he calls wife Marie-Louise Lulu (Allison Minick) “feather-headed,” and deems women far less worthy than men.
And she thinks little of men. Her first husband was 25 kinds of lout. That’s his picture above the fireplace. She keeps it only because the photographer is famous. And she married Summersby for the monogram she’d inherit — so maybe she is a few stitches short of a sampler.
Summersby claims he’s no “amateur at love’s tricks.” Oriole (John Greenleaf, funny but should speed up his stage business) taught him hypnotism. So Summersby trances his wife and dallies on the sly.
Enter Shaftsbury-Phipps — née “Cheese.” He fled to “In-djah” when Mary-Louise wed another suitor. Shaftsbury-Phipps is nobly intended and, in David McBean’s humorously ardent portrayal, a mite strange.
Bring in blustery Vole (Ruff Yeager), the wine-merchant whose wife is Summersby’s affair, and the stage should percolate.
But except for a few magic tricks — and a truly impressive levitation for the Act One curtain — and unlike most farces, Now You See It has little physicality. People stand around and talk ad almost infinitum.
Most movements happen during long exchanges, when actors must change positions to break up a static stage picture. In Act Two, a character will come on and, when things should glide into whirl-mode, will announce “just let me explain.”
It makes for a slow, frustrating evening, since the cast obviously has the chops, as does the director (that curtain call sparkles). Plus, the design work is up to North Coast Rep’s usual high standard: in particular Anastasia Pautova’s pure 1910 costumes; the indefatigable Peter Herman’s period coiffures; and Matt Novotny’s summer’s day lighting.
The ingredients are all in place. But instead of Now You See It, they should rename this relentlessly gabby script, Now You HEAR It.
Playing through March 27