“The Metromaniacs” is a fast-paced comedy of false identities and intellectual pretension

1888
Christian Frost and Ty Lane on stage
Christian Frost and Ty Lane. Photo by Sarah Haley

Prepare to be blown away by the comic confusions and misunderstandings every minute of this production

DeShawn White and Christian Frost on stage
DeShawn White and Christian Frost. Photo by Sarah Haley

The Metromaniacs, now at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison, is a French comedy about would-be poets and playwrights. It is full of intellectual pretense masquerading as high-toned criticism, with characters who hide their true identities to pursue their own goals — literary and romantic.

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably formed an expectation of what you’ll see on stage. Discard it, because you’re going to be blown away by the comic confusions and misunderstandings that underlie almost every minute of this production. 

“Metromaniacs” refers to those who are addicted to poetry or to writing verses. The Metromaniacs was written by French poet and playwright Alexis Piron in 1738 as a parodic satire of literary intellectuals of his day. Noted playwright David Ives undertook the task of translating the work while adapting it to appeal to modern audiences while maintaining its comic core. Ives calls the result a “translaptation” of Piron’s original play.

Of the play’s seven characters, three of them are avowed metromaniacs: Francalou (Brent Harris), a would-be poet and playwright whose play, also titled The Metromaniacs, is being performed at his home this evening; Damis (Christian Frost), always writing rhymes in his notebook, who is coerced into appearing in Francalou’s play the night his own first play is being premiered; and Lucille (Billie Wyatt), Francalou’s daughter, who makes poetic expression the prime quality required in a would-be suitor.

The other four characters are drawn into the mania of these three. Dorante (Ty Lane) becomes a romantic rival to his old friend Damis for the hand of Lucille even though he can barely read or write, let alone speak poetically. Baliveau (John Ahlin), Damis’ uncle, is shocked to find his nephew has abandoned the study of the law for poetry. Finally, Lisette (DeShawn White), Lucille’s maid, and Mondor (Austin Kirk), Damis’ man-servant, try their best to promote everybody’s agendas by any and all means.

Austin Kirk and Christian Frost on stage
Austin Kirk and Christian Frost. Photo by Sarah Haley

Director Brian B. Crowe cleverly guides his talented cast through the intricacies of farce and succeeds at keeping that fine balance that spells success in a comedic production like this. While all the actors were outstanding in their roles, I was most entertained by John Ahlin’s blustering, ill-tempered uncle Baliveau, who finds himself cutting loose when cast in Francalou’s play; DeShawn White’s take-charge maid Lisette, who finds herself mixed up romantically with Damis, Dorante, and Mondor; and Austin Kirk’s wily servant Mondor, who finds himself wooing both Lisette and Lucille.

Dick Block’s sets are of an artificial forest, set up in Francalou’s house for his play, creating an area as artificial as the pretentions of the play’s metromaniacs but as convenient a trysting place for lovers as a real forest might be, brightly shown off by Tony Galaska’s lighting design. Brian Russman’s costumes combine elements of the 1730s and of the 21st Century, mimicking the “translaptation’s” mixture of old and new.

The Metromaniacs will surprise and delight you, shattering any expectations you may have of typical French farcical humor. It is the perfect summer evening’s entertainment for discerning playgoers. I cannot more strongly urge you to go to the F.M. Kirby Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison and attend the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s production of The Metromaniacs!

The Metromaniacs is produced by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the F.M. Kirby Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison until September 4th.  For more information or to obtain tickets, visit ShakespeareNJ.org or call 973-408-5600. The theatre requires the wearing of masks while inside the building.

Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first live play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. He works in the box office at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.