The French farce romps at 2nd Story Theatre

PROVIDENCE, RI – Oh, those Frenchies. From "Tartuffe" to "La Cage aux Folles," the French theater has spelled out a theme you might call, Frailty, they name is . . . humanity. And you can certainly see that made plain at 2nd Story these nights.

Director Ed Shea has chosen two short works from the later 1600s. Both go gangbusters after very different targets, namely doctors and the medical profession, and lawyers and the legal profession. And the surprising thing is that while the trappings and the attack are different, the conclusion is the same. We are all driven by our needs.

On the relatively bare and very simply lit stage area at Bristol's Statehouse the fun starts with Moliere's "The Doctor In Spite of Himself." The trick here is that a country bumpkin is taken by his gullible neighbors to be a physician. Not as dumb as he looks, the hayseed, played vibrantly by Jim Sullivan, knows a good deal when he sees it. There ensues a veritable volley of rumps kicked, breasts fondled, and money exchanged.

What's new about this old work is that 2nd Story has chosen to give these French folk American "hillbilly" accents. Sounds very strange, I know. But somehow it works. When the bumpkin figures out what's going on and makes his move he asks something like: "Ah can git any fee ah like? Then I am a doctor."

Moliere's comedy is sometimes said to be just that only an excuse for major fun. But 2nd Story's sly raucousness gives it more. There's a lesson to be learned. The second offering is by Jean Racine, a 16th century author best known for his tragedies. In fact, he wrote only one comedy. But it's a pretty good one, perhaps because it's based on a Greek satire by the great Aristophanes.

Sometimes called "The Litigants," it is here named "The Suitors." But either way it's a scathing look at the legal profession and its practitioners. Shea's direction continues its rapscallion romp. As lawyers prepare writs and are ripped, a judge goes cuckoo, and a sweet little dog goes on trial for killing a capon.

The translation from the French by the brilliant Richard Wilbur is in rhyme. One line goes something like this as a wealthy matron laments to an attorney: "I live in accord to my station. But what is life, sir, without litigation." That line belongs to a very funny Paula Faber. Other 2nd Story regulars, Tom Roberts, F. William Oakes, Dillon Medina, Liz Hallenbeck and others are equally up to their tasks.

"The Suitors" perhaps lacks the reckless drive of Moliere's work. It's more cautious, and so less amusing. But if you give these plays just a little air, cooperate with their idiosyncrasies; you are going to have a good time.

After all, once again these ancient French works show us, through comedy, the frailties of, well, of all of us.

Want To Go?
"The Doctor In Spite of Himself" and "The Suitors" continue at 2nd Story Theatre's second stage in Bristol through December 18th.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you.