The Heir Apparent was originally written by Frenchman Jean-Francois Regnard in 1705. Broadway’s David Ives (who also adapted the award-winning play, The Liar, seen at STC in the Spring of 2010) translated and adapted the version that is currently being performed at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s intimate Lansburgh Theatre. The story centers on Eraste (Andrew Veenstra), a young Frenchman who is desperate to inherit his old uncle Geronte’s (Floyd King) wealth so that he can marry Isabelle (a charming Meg Chambers Steedle). This proves difficult as Geronte, a miserly man prone to seizures, has other plans. He plans to give his inheritance to distant relatives and, much to the chagrin of Eraste, marry Isabelle himself. Eraste and his cohorts must engage in a charades and take on false identities to ensure that Eraste gets both the girl and the money. I’m usually not a big fan of comedy, but this well executed production won me over because of it great acting, witty dialogue with an intricate rhyming structure, and its fine production values.
It’s a simple story really, and at its core, it is one we’ve seen many times before. Though the plot is fairly predictable, the characters bring the audience along on their journey and it’s quite easy to become engaged in their plight. This is largely accomplished through Ives’ witty and modern take on the 18th century farce. The strength of the piece lies not within the story that plays out, but the language the characters use to convey their thoughts as they traverse the difficult situations they’ve been dealt.
Though the characters are dressed in period costumes (beautifully designed by Murrell Horton), they speak in modern language (though still in verse) and make reference to modern day issues (among them, being national healthcare plans, or a lack thereof, which got many laughs from the DC audience attuned to the political issues of the day). The interesting rhymes and cadence Ives employs make the dialogue all the more intricate and accessible, even if Ives relies a little too heavily on jokes dealing with bodily functions.
The cast, under the superb direction STC’s own Michael Kahn, more than handles the intricate dialogue and humor. Floyd King, Andrew Veenstra, and Meg Chambers Steele are joined by DC regular Nancy Robinette (playing Madame Argante, mother to Isabelle, and doing her usual extraordinary job), Broadway’s Carson Elrod (playing Crispin, friend to Eraste) and Kelly Hutchinson (playing Lisette, maid to Geronte), as well as Clark Middleton (playing Scruple, the short lawyer charged with the task of writing Geronte’s will). Carson Elrod, perhaps, has the most difficult task in the play as he is required to take on various personas throughout the course of the show. He does so with great ease. He is equally matched by Floyd King who skillfully uses both physical humor and language to make the audience really believe that he is a miserly old man near death.
The production is enhanced by Alexander Dodge’s intricate stationary set, which effectively transports the audience to Geronte’s house and all the riches found within it. Christopher Baines’ and Phillip Rosenberg’s sound and lighting designs, respectively, add value to the production. Both are minimalistic, yet skillfully done. They do not detract attention from the script and acting. The same can be said for Adam Wernick’s beautiful incidental music.
Overall, audiences can expect a laugh a minute when watching this piece. Yes, some of the jokes do get a bit old, but the light-hearted humor is largely well-executed. I’d venture to say this is likely one of the funniest plays in Washington, DC at the moment. STC deserves much praise for skillfully bringing this work to life. Under less capable hands, a comedy can fall flat and leave the audience (or at least me) asking “Why did I sit through this?” The evening went by rather quickly, and the play left the audience wanting more.
The Heir Apparent plays through October 23, 2011 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre – 450 7th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the Box Office at (202) 547-1122 or purchase them online.