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The Heir Apparent

Well, God nor gold will help the old man thrive.
I thought last night would be his last alive
For twenty times he fell into a swoon
And lay as limply as a pitted prune

— the servant Lisette as her master lays dying. When he dies without executing a will providing his impoverished nephew with the means to marry his sweetheart, a treasure hunt for hidden treasure gets underway with a cry of "And here's to holy matri-money!"
 The Heir Apparent
Suzanne Bertish, Carson Elrod, David Pittu (Photo: Richard Termine
David Ives introduces his program notes for Jean-François Regnard's The Heir Apparent with this comment by Voltaire: "Whoever doesn't enjoy Regnard doesn't deserve to admire Moliere."

That may have been true in Voltaire's day. But even the better known and still regularly produced Moliere nowadays benefits from a new look by someone with a flair for adapting 200-year-old comedies so that they're true to the original and yet delightfully new. That's exactly what adapter par excellence and witty wordsmith David Ives did for Moliere's School For Lies three years ago. And he's done it again with Regnard's The Heir Apparent.

The tale is an old-fashioned caper about a miserly rich man and the poor nephew eager to be his heir since otherwise his sweetheart's pragmatic mother won't allow the match. The madcap events begin with getting the ailing Gerante to sign a will before his impending death. It goes into high gear with the desperate pursuit of "matri-money" when he dies intestate.

As with School For Lies, Ives has once again taken advantage of not having an estate to deal with. Thus we see his own spirit superimposed on the source play and slip some sly contemporary references in his couplets — for example, the pragmatic Madame Argante's reasoning for rejecting the impoverished Eraste as a son inlaw with "Is it my fault your spending powers are spent?/ That you're one of the ninety-nine percent?

As directed by John Rando the assorted farcical schemes and mishaps play out fast and furiously, but not too fast to land every laugh. As for the farceurs, if I were grading them all seven would get A or A+.

To start with the man around whose death and death wishes the plot revolves, Paxton Whitehead's Geronte is a riot, whether dead or alive. Suzanne Bertish's Madame Argante is imperious craftiness personified.

Dave Quay is just right as the handsome wastrel who sees himself as his uncle's rightful heir. Amelia Pedlow is pretty and charming as the prize he hopes his uncle's will will bring him.

True to any good comedy, there's a secondary pair of lovers, in this case the servants Lisette and Crispin. Claire Karpen is excellent as Lisette, but it's Carson Elrod's Crispin who just about steals the show as he assumes myriad disguises as part of the ridiculous but uproariously funny scheme to outsmart the miserly Geronte. He ends up sharing scene stealing honors with David Pittu as the aptly named Scruple, a lawyer who makes a couple of late appearances. Even if he never said a word, his ingeniously presented miniscule stature has the audience in stitches.

As is usual at the Classic Stage the production values are wonderful. While there's only one set, the immensely talented John Lee Beatty has evoked a beautiful, authentic picture of 17th century Paris with several doorways and a balcony for entrances, exits and buffoonish antics.

David C. Woolard has provided wonderful high fashion costumes typical of the era. His outfits are as witty as they are elegant. His creations for is Carson Elrod's bravura quick-change moments fit right in with the hilarity.

Ives has Crispin justify his having acquire a five thousands francs annuity with "hey, what can you get for that these days?" To take that a step further, while theater goers might well question what a high priced ticket can get them these days, they will definitely get a full-featured, enjoyable entertainment for their ticket to Heir Apparent.

The Heir Apparent
by Jean-François Regnard, translated from French and adapted by David Ives
Directed by John Rando
Cast: Suzanne Bertish (Madame Argante), Carson Elrod (Crispin), Claire Karpen (Lisette), Amelia Pedlow (Isabelle), David Pittu (Scruple), Dave Quay (Eraste) and Paxton Whitehead (Geronte).
Set design by John Lee Beatty
Costumes by David C. Woolard
Lighting design by Japhy Weideman
Sound design by Nevin Steinberg
Wig and Hair Design by Paul Huntley
Stage Manager: Richard A. Hodge
Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, includes 1 intermission
Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St.
From 3/28/14; opening; 4/09/14; closing 5/11/14.
Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 3 pm.
Tickets start at $65.
Reviewed by Elyse sommer at 4/04/14 press preview
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