- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Olney Theatre’s production of “13 Rue de L’Amour” is a classic case of bad plays happening to good actors. Jeffries Thaiss, Lawrence Redmond, Nick de Pinto and Halo Wines add pizzazz to this pouf-less and insipid French farce, but their talents cannot resuscitate a show that never manages to elicit even a soupcon of laughs.

Is there anything more agonizing than sitting through a comedy where the audience can barely cough up a dutiful cackle? During “13 Rue de L’Amour,” you watch the slapstick and physical humor unfold in such slo-mo that all the inner workings and mechanics are in plain view, which may be useful to drama students but for everyone else does not constitute an affirmation of the giddy transporting magic of screwball comedy.

Director John Going goes for the obvious gags — what, no banana peel? — in Georges Feydeau’s classic farce rather than underscoring the absurdities and hypocritical behavior of the various sex-on-the-brain characters. Everything is exaggerated and heightened to the point of pain, although the artificiality works in Liz Covey’s foppish costumes and James Wolk’s loopy belle epoque set, which takes the colors of pink and mauve to inspired, cartoonish heights.

In the farcical tradition, “13 Rue de L-Amour” centers on the infidelities of well-to-do couples and their paramours. Leontine Duchotel (Ashley West) is devoted to husband Justinien (Lawrence Redmond), who seems unusually preoccupied with wild game hunting. Her dandified suitor, Gustave Moricet (Jeffries Thaiss), insists he is bagging more than rabbits and pigeons, but Leontine pooh-poohs the idea that her husband is unfaithful. She does say that she will succumb to Gustave’s wooing if he can prove her husband is a bounder.

The main action, if you can call it that, shifts to Gustave’s passion pit in a building filled with like-minded love-in-the-afternooners, a place presided over by the gabby and meddlesome Madame Spritzer (Halo Wines). While Gustave connives to bed Leontine, her husband is enjoying the company of his best friend’s wife across the hall. Things are further complicated by the arrival of Leontine’s young cousin, Jean-Pierre (Nick De Pinto), who also has a key to Gustave’s flat and thinks he is meeting a female tryst-mate there. Before you can say “mon dieu,” Jean-Pierre is naked as a plucked poulet, bringing about much hiding in closets and shielding of private parts with throw pillows.

Sex has never seemed so unsexy and friskiness-free as in this production. If parents want to advocate abstinence to their children, a trip to see this play might swear youngsters off sexual activity well into adulthood.

The door-slamming and melodramatic double takes, eye-rolling asides to the audience and innuendo — the classic ingredients of farce — make you flinch instead of exercise your funny bone. “13 Rue de L’Amour” is schlock of the lowest order, making every conceivable comedic wrong turn. This is one street you will want to avoid.

*

WHAT: “13 Rue de L’Amour” by Georges Feydeau, translated by Mawby Green and Ed Feilbert

WHERE: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Through June 10.

TICKETS: $25 to $46

PHONE: 301/924-3400

WEB SITE: www.olneytheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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