Lickspittles, Buttonholers and Damned Pernicious Go-Betweens

by Ed Malin · May 8, 2015

Boomerang Theatre Company is currently remounting a wonderful play by Johnna Adams which is delicious, nutritious and only a little bit pernicious.  If you miss it, you’ll never know how good bad people can be.  If you do see it, you’ll learn all about pandering, hot air ballooning, Dante’s inferno, other popular poetic formats, and Empress Josephine’s shopping habits, all from the mouths of Danes.   The cast will have you eating out of their buttonholes, the costumes are dandy, and John Hurley’s direction is better than Montgolfier, Munchausen and Mozart put together. 

The multi-verse of this play centers on Copenhagen in 1807.  Three shady frockers have literally been booted out of court: Peder the lickspittle/brown-noser (Sean Wiliams), Stub the buttonholer/draining, self-centered conversationalist (Aaron Michael Zook) and Guthbert the go-between/not an 80s band but he does fulfill people’s every other desires (Nat Cassidy).  After accosting the patriotic Sestine (Amy Lee Pearsall), they learn that the wars simmering in Europe are about to boil the Baltic.  Determined to clear their names, they head to Paris. 

In Paris, the three amigos believe they have nicely attached themselves to the entourage of Napoleon (Isaiah Tanenbaum) and Empress Josephine (Amy Lee Pearsall), the newest interlopers in the political fishbowl, I mean sphere. However, the chums find that there are three French women of action currently providing any services they could hope to offer: Christienne, the dual sword-wielding lickspittle (Catherine McNelis), Eglantine, the elegantly feathered buttonholer (Kristen Vaughan) and Candine, the conniving go-between (Kelley Rae O’Donnell).  Egads, instead of restoring their names, the menventurers get a bit lost trying to prove that Danish art is better than French.  

By the way, while most of the play is in an easy-to-grok rhymed couplet form, some of the characters speak exclusively in other verse forms.  Sestine from Denmark speaks only in the six-stanza “sestina” form, which is her namesake.  Limerick, the Irish Butler (Gavin Starr Kendall) leaves nothing to the imagination…or does he?  And Candine, she starts out disguised as a peasant boy who can only do haiku.  What will happen next, it’s a mystery for Danes, and quite the intrigue.  Enough haiku, though; Candine soon reveals herself as a rebel who purposely chooses a non-rhyming word at the end of her couplets.  Guthbert is incensed, and shot through the heart with fervor. 

At the ladies’ salon, Stub talks so much he makes the three old boys seem like a nuisance.  But is that really the head of Marie Antoinette that Candine keeps in a box?  Guthbert is arrested, yet soon arranges his own freedom—he has his own flying machine, after all—and has Candine locked away.  The only problem with being so valuable to Napoleon is that the three Dane-Dares must now prove their Viking flyvende fugl actually works. 

Certain things then happen that you really ought to see for yourself.  The freewheeling gentlemen “land” on a British ship, where the Duke of Wellington (Ridley Parson) deigns to speak to them in sonnet form.  This is most enjoyable, and takes a good while.  They are joined by Christienne, Eglantine, and the ineluctable Candine, who reveal yet another set of identities.  By the time a few sonnets are over, they’re back in Copenhagen.  Sestine is busy with the defense, while Josephine is busy with some shopping.  Prince Frederick (Gavin Starr Kendall) is none-too-sober and it takes Sestine to get him ready to leave his mark.  Meanwhile, the three exiled lowlifes prove that they were the prime movers all along.  Guthbert advises palace guard Ibsen (Ridley Parson) that his nephew the aspiring playwright will have a bright future.  Napoleon and Wellington decide to leave beautiful Copenhagen in one piece, ensuring it will be safe for future mermaid sightings.  And, yes, there is much true love. 

This fine production, of which I saw the previous version in 2013, sails to great heights.  Nothing about this show feels like 2 ½ hours.  Instead, the impressive rhymes of a truly gifted playwright move along enjoyably.  The show is very aware of itself; characters come out to apologize for the lack of sets and to fill in some plot morsels.  Their modesty just allows for even more physical comedy and beautiful relationships.  My favorite couple changes every few seconds.  When they’re not dueling each other, I prefer Peder and Christienne.  For poetry slams, Guthbert and Candine win.  Napoleon and Josephine are delightfully off-kilter, too, while Stub and Eglantine show that form trumps content.  Sandy Yaklin’s sets allow for much imagination, and make me wonder when we’ll all have wheeled prie-dieus.  Holly Rihn’s costumes are refreshingly classy, while Morgan Zipf-Meister’s lighting blurs the line between good and evil.   Michael Lawrence Eisenstein’s fight direction befits a massive play with lots of war in it.







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