'The Ladies Man' might provide the biggest laugh of the seasonI am not going to tell you that “The Ladies Man,” which opened at the Duluth Playhouse on Thursday night, is the funniest show you will see in town this year, because it is not. But I will shimmy up the tree and go out on a limb and declare this French farce has the biggest laugh of the season.
By: Lawrance Bernabo, for the News Tribune
I am not going to tell you that “The Ladies Man,” which opened at the Duluth Playhouse on Thursday night, is the funniest show you will see in town this year, because it is not. But I will shimmy up the tree and go out on a limb and declare this French farce has the biggest laugh of the season.
Dr. Hercule Molineaux (Jody Kujawa) has spent the night in the rain on a park bench because he failed to go along with the assignation he planned at the Moulin Rouge with Suzanne Aubin (Stacy Sudoh). Ironically, the fact he has not cheated on his wife, Yvonne (Jennie Ross), does not keep him from getting into as much trouble as if he did.
The comic confusion is compounded by Molineaux’s mother-in-law, Madame
Aigreville (Holly Vontin), a lisping patient named Bassinet (Cody MacKenzie) and Gustav Aubin (Kendall Linn), the Prussian officer married to Suzanne. Since this is a French farce, we also have the valet, Etienne (Luke Moravec), and ladies maid, Marie (Alexandra Jost).
There are multiple doors for the cascade of entrances and exits that frequently erupt in such plays, but the piece de resistance proves not to be a door, but rather a revolving wall that director Anthony Nelson milked and milked and milked until the cows come home, and the opening night audience totally lost it.
Yes, there is a problem with having the biggest laugh coming halfway through the second act (which combines the second and third acts of the play), because nothing is going to top such a monumental explosion of laughter. Nelson has his cast striving toward warp speed on the delivery, to make up for only having one intermission, but makes sure everybody downshifts for the comic asides and gets what laughs there are to be got.
“The Ladies Man” takes a while to set up its laughs, but things start paying off surprisingly with the pairing of Vontin and Lin in the dressmaker’s shop as the script shows how one simple misunderstanding can be mined for several hysterical moments. Moravec also has some nice moments of physical comedy, and ultimately this is a show where actions get louder laughs than words.
It is interesting to see Kujawa as a leading man, because we are talking about the pre-eminent second banana in town who steals scenes effortlessly from anybody who ends up on stage with him. For most of his performance, Kujawa is remarkably restrained, dutifully letting others get the laughs and earning his own through a decidedly different understated delivery that culminated in his comic recapitulation of the tale of the two gloves. There are only a few moments toward the end where he starts to rev up and thoughts of Jackie Gleason leap to mind, and those brief moments cut across the overall grain of the character he has created on stage. This is not remotely close to Kujawa’s funniest performance, but it just might be his best.
Lawrance Bernabo wanted to write “After me, the review” in French here, but “review” gets translated as “l’examen,” and he did not want people thinking he will be testing them on his reviews.