A satirical romance beguiles in Madison

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show review – Tovarich:

What appeal can an old, sentimental play about deposed nobility from Tsarist Russia have for an audience today? The answer is plenty when it’s “Tovarich” now playing at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Written by Jacques Deval in 1933, and adapted and translated into English by Robert E. Sherwood in 1935, it is a product of its time. Politics, class, duty, pluck, honor and sentimentality are the stuff of this play which was made into a 1937 film starring Claudette Colbert, Charles Boyer, and Basil Rathbone.

The plot is a parable most people in the 1930s could identify with: tough times call for practical solutions, while not sacrificing one’s honor or integrity. The time and place in which the play is set is Paris in late 1925 and early 1926. Here we have a Grand Duchess married to a dashing Prince General who served the Imperial family as attendants, as a lady-in- waiting and aide, respectively, and so we are convinced that if they served the Tsar so well, why not serve a wealthy French family? As they both state in the play, serving comes naturally to them. They charm and bedazzle the French family who employs them, the Duponts, as servants in outlandish comedic situations until the play turns serious, and becomes more involved with the day’s politics. The word, “Tovarich,” we are told in the play, is an unfriendly term for “Fellow Russian” used in the Soviet Union by “Bolsheviks.” Think “My Man Godfrey” meets “Casablanca,” and you can see why the audiences love the play, which is why its run has been extended to September 1.

Carly Street is the Grand Duchess Tatiana Petrovna, aka “Tina,” who has recently appeared in “Clybourne Park” and memorably in “Brief Encounter” on Broadway. Her performance here is by turns touching and funny. John Barker, as Prince Mikhail, aka “Michel,” has appeared at The Shakespeare Theatre in Madison many times, shining recently in “The Misanthrope.” In a fine cast, a few performances stood out. Anthony Cochran was Commissar Gorotchenko, galvanizing attention with his fine delivery of wordy speeches which could have fallen flat in lesser hands. Colin McPhillamy as Chauffourier-Dubieff was nuanced, sly, and amusing, and Mary Dierson made the most of her short but pivotal scenes.

Designer Brittany Vasta created great scenic effects with very little, costume designer Paul Canada created beautiful costumes for the women and elegant, suave haberdashery for the men, as well as stunning ethnic costumes, and fight director Rick Sordelet created a dashing, swashbuckling scene which was one of the play’s highpoints.

Bonnie J. Monte directed with a sure hand. This is her 23rd season here, and it is to her credit that “Tovarich” is being presented. Monte writes in her “Director’s Thoughts on ‘Tovarich'” that this play bears similarity for her to “The Great Gatsby,” but that “Tovarich” has a theme of “hope, promise, and happiness.” Monte promises to direct other Sherwood plays. One can hope for an equally good production of “Idiot’s Delight” in the near future.

“Tovarich is playing until September 1 at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road), Madison, NJ, on the campus of Drew University. Free parking. For tickets and further information, call 973-408-5600, or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

show review – Tovarich:

What appeal can an old, sentimental play about deposed nobility from Tsarist Russia have for an audience today? The answer is plenty when it’s “Tovarich” now playing at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Written by Jacques Deval in 1933, and adapted and translated into English by Robert E. Sherwood in 1935, it is a product of its time. Politics, class, duty, pluck, honor and sentimentality are the stuff of this play which was made into a 1937 film starring Claudette Colbert, Charles Boyer, and Basil Rathbone.