Dramashop Production Painfully FunnyKeep an Eye on Am'elie, by Georges Feydeau. MIT Dramashop directed by Robert Scanlan, February 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 & 16 at 8pm, February 10 at 2pm, Kresge Little Theatre.
For Feydeau to succeed, the laughter must be painful. In Dramashop's Keep an Eye on Am'elie, the door bell was guaranteed to ring at the most embarrassing moment, the comic horror of situation exploited to the utmost to lay bare the hypocrisy of Feydeau's stock Parisian characters.
Against a background of William Fregosi's elegant set, the first act introduced us to Am'elie, ex-chambermaid to Mme. la Comtesse de Pr'emilly, fired for cultivating the gardener, now encouraging the gentry of Paris to sow their seeds. Susan Wiegand W '85 never allowed her Am'elie to take on more than a minimum of warmth, playing the role of the prostitute who needs to be anaesthetized to reality.
We get to meet her former employer too, Anna Lisa Fear '85, who laid on the faked prudishness, her haughty poise and thinly-veiled deceit measured to match Feydeau's other royal artifact, the Prince of Palestria (Wayne Heller '86), a greaser not quite aloof enough to convince us of his close connections to the court of the Tsar.
Am'elie's father was beautifully played by David Altshuler '86, each little movement, each unselfconscious -- but telling -- gesture placing him more securely in the petty bourgeois class, and making us laugh at the absurdity of it all. The effetely mannered Koshnadiev (Brian Linden '88) was entertaining too. But the comic genius of the show was David Brackman '83 who created Van Putzeboum ("Putze"), the godfather who holds Marcel's fortune in trust until he marries. He is the only one to be constantly taken in, and the misunderstandings generated are spine-chillingly funny. The accent, the intonation, the gestures, all were brilliantly projected.
Despite the competence of the remainder of the cast, there was some slackness in the direction of the first act, quickly tightened up, though, for the bed scene vignette of Act 2. Marcel (Michael Guenette '82) has Putze under the impression that he wants to marry Am'elie even though he has no such intention. In fact his best friend, 'Etienne (Patrick Byrne '85) -- who does fancy her as his bride -- has asked him to "keep an eye" on her while he's away for a month.
The Act opens as we see him faithful in this duty to the extent of having accompanying her to bed. Marcel wakes up: His scatter-brained disorientation and grumpiness were wonderfully developed by Guenette, the humor amplified by his interaction with the maid Charlotte (Jean Alpers '86). The Countess appears, and Am'elie disappears under the bed: Sharp coordination brought out the maximum humor here with cruel precision. Putze turns up, and 'Etienne is catapaulted into a John Cleese like act of exaggerated rage while the other protagonists hide out on the balcony.
In the third act the farce is cemented in "the marriage" at City Hall. And the comedy ends with the Prince of Palestria -- who wants to sleep with the newly-wed Am'elie -- in his underwear, and 'Etienne deshabill'e too, forced to undress by Am'elie's husband, Marcel, who alone never gets a chance to take his pants off. The acting all-round was superb; the laughs produced were agonizing.