Off-Broadstreet Theatre production is 'A great game to catch'

By: Lois Marie Harrod

The Pennington Post - July 24, 2002

    "Hotel d'Amour" is a farce, a paradox, a play in which nothing happens very busily.
Doors open and shut to laughter. Lovers duck in and out of closets to guffaws. Lots of nudge, nudge, wink, wink but in the end, faithful husbands don't climb into bed with new mistresses, faithful wives don't cuckold their husbands, lovers don't get shot and inveterate Don Juans don't repent.
    In other words, the world of the farce is very much like our world - all motion and no revelation. And no one mirrors that static rush better than George Feydeau, whose early 20th century classic French farces still appear in the 21st century. In fact, "Hotel d'Amour," which is running and chasing at Off-Broadstreet until August 24, is Jack Helbig and Gregg Opelka's clever musical adaptation of Feydeau's "A Flea in Her Ear" from l907.
    Feydeau knew the rules of farce better than the Williams' sisters know the rules of tennis. In order to play this theatrical game, there must be doors, lots of them so that the characters (stereotypes, of course) can constantly just miss each other. There must be running jokes, repetitions. There must be mistaken identities and misplaced letters. There must be suggestive language, unconsummated sex, unmurdered corpses. Lots of sound and fury signifying nothing has changed.
    In "Hotel d'Amour" Jack Helbig and Gregg Opelka understand the conventions of farce. They preserve Feydeau's eight doors, revolving bed and window. They maintain his 14 characters that we distinguish by their quirks and costumes. They rerun the running jokes: "Hotel d'Amour - that's Hotel of Love." "I know that."
    They translate his suggestive language into broad American humor, cucumbers and zucchinis comprehended by the broadest Iowan. And most deliciously, they adapt Feydeau's quick patter into quick clever song. In other words "Hotel d'Amour" renders Feydeau's farce, its running-in-place and suggestive language play, skillfully and successfully to the American stage in this, its East Coast premiere.
Watching the play, therefore, is like watching a good game of tennis or a good game of chess. We know from the beginning of the play that love is just a word, and we know who is the wife and who is the pawn. We know where the doors are and what traps exist. All our attention is on how the game is going to be played; on the tricks and turns, the variations; on the skill of the playwrights and the actors.
Off-Broadstreet's actors, eight veterans and four newcomers, play a farce with verve and skill. Their timing and delivery of speech, action and song make "Hotel d'Amour" a game worth seeing.
    Veteran Suzanne Houston simpers as Raymonde who thinks her husband Victor (Tom Orr) is having an affair while Victor, the ultimate faithful husband, is visiting the doctor (Tom Chiola) because he is having trouble with his "thing." The doctor who has no trouble with his "thing" frequents Hotel d'Amour where he seems to be having an affair with Marguerite (Lynnea Fuccille) who also seems to be involved with the receptionist Ferraillon (David Cramer) who is having difficulty with the porter Poche who just happens to look like Victor and is, of course, also played by Tom Orr.
    Meanwhile, Victor's best friend Romain Tournel (Steven J. Murin, Jr.) has the hots for Raymonde while Raymond's best friend Lucienne (Marieke Georgiadis) contrives a way to trap Victor at Hotel d'Amour but only succeeds in arousing the suspicions of her jealous "Shoot first, ask questions later" husband (Jeff Perrine).
    Add to this Antoinette (Nicole Krai), the requisite French maid who seems to make love to everyone, her husband Etienne the Butler (Stuart Grow) and Camille (Victor's brother with a cleft palate) and you begin to see just how complicated this chess game is and to appreciate the moves and permutations.
    All the actors sing, dance and disappear with skill, but Marieke Georgiadis, Tom Orr, Suzanne Houston and Jeff Perrine have especially impressive voices and delivery, and James K. Perry wins the Oscar for his rendition of a cleft palate (something we are allowed to laugh at in a farce).
    Verdict: Too often watching a farce is like watching those interminable games of peanut league baseball when the score of the 7-year-old teams is 3-49. There is nothing to make it a game except the conventions, four bases and a bat. The comedy of the poorly coordinated kid who takes 22 strikes to hit the ball gets old fast if it ever existed. But "Hotel d'Amour" at the Off-Broadstreet Theatre has no such dull moments. Its swirls and pivots, fine-tuned language and song, timing and energy make it an exciting evening at the theatre, a great game to catch.