Somehow, Shakespeare always gets away with it. Whether viewing long-lost siblings reunited or lovers cast awry under a woodland spell, his audiences can always leap over the hurdle of suspension of disbelief to follow along contently. Playwright John Strand doesn’t make the leap happen effectively, in Lovers and Executioners, currently running through September 19th at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth.
It’s because his protagonist, Julie (Marianne Galloway), tries to deceive her (ex?) husband, Bernard (Chad Gowen Spear), by pretending to be a male rival for the affections of his new conquest, Constance (Amber Marie Flores). What ends up being most puzzling, and partially the undoing of this mid-18th Century French farce, is why anyone in the small village would buy into the idea that Julie isn’t…Julie. Sure, she’s been away for three years, after being left for dead on a deserted island by her (ex?) husband. Three years? That just doesn’t seem like enough time for husband, servants and friends to completely forget what she looks like. Some may see it as a minor quibble, but I found it an insurmountable plot element that hampered full enjoyment of anything that followed. I didn’t buy it.
This is not the fault of the ensemble, however. Even though they seem to perform in three different shows, all of them are entertaining to watch. Some are broad and over-the-top; others are earnest and reflective; still others mix a little more modernity into their speech and mannerisms. Any one of the three styles might have been fine, but getting all three at once taxes the credibility of the performance.
Suzanna Catherine Fox and Shane Strawbridge (neither a stranger to the intricacies of farce) play delightfully together as Bernard’s servants, providing all the yummy Groundlings humor and sexual innuendo one could want. Galloway cuts a dashing figure when she’s portraying Frederic, the “male” rival. Spear matches her in verbal prowess. And then there’s Eric Dobbins as the third rival for Constance’s attention: the Spanish fop Don Lope, the love child of Al Pacino and Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride”. Need I say more?
Strand’s award-winning 1999 play is adapted freely from The Wife, Judge and Accuser by Antoine Jacob de Montfleury, a contemporary and rival of Molière. While the rhyming couplets wisely become more organic as the action progresses, it would be great if the work got there faster. No doubt as to how it will all end (except for a head-scratching coda just before the final curtain), makes Lovers and Executioners about twenty minutes too long.
John Leach’s soft lighting compliments the elegant set design by Clare Floyd DeVries. Director Robin Armstrong has outfitted six of her seven cast members in handsome period dress. So why is Shane Strawbridge costumed in a beige pajama set? Whether or not it might be appropriate for an 18th Century servant, it clashes garishly with every other costume onstage. Intentional? Ultimately, distracting. Lovers and Executioners strives to be worthy of its cast, who all deserve better material and a more cohesive production than they’ve been given.
Lovers and Executioners runs through September 19th at Circle Theatre, 230 W. 4th St., Fort Worth TX 76102.
Review submitted by special contributor Jason Kane