Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
A straw hat and a merry chase
Cleveland Press August 24, 1973
"An Italian Straw Hat" by Eugene Labiche may be an outstanding example of 19th Century French farce, but it is hardly a play to be approached with reverence.
Fortunately for all concerned reverence must have been the furthest thing from anyone's mind in the production which opened at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival last night.
The action is fast, the acting broad, the gestures extravagant and the comic devices profuse.
The new translation and adaptation by Mary Fournier Bill and Anne Bill serves the actors better than most translations do. No one seemed to be mouthing awkward phrases.
Director Lawrence Carra has provided the stage with a minimum of six doors and sometimes seven and he keeps them swinging. Now doors may not be important, surely a trifling thing to mention. But in farce they can be everything providing the right people pop in and out of them at the right times. Last night they did.
The play is really an extended chase comedy and leading the chase (and pursued by everyone else in the cast) is a young man called Fadinard.
Fadinard is played by Gregory Lehane and much of the success of the production rests on this actor's shoulders. His portrayal is a mixture of surprise, frustration, weariness and vexation. He bounces when things are going his way, tends to drag a little as matters get out of hand, becomes obviously a physically weary man as matters draw to a close. But like every such hero there is a reserve of energy that he calls forth. As Lehane does it the performance is a farcical gem as well as an example of nonstop energy. And for all of the ridiculousness of the hero Lehane keeps him a sympathetic character.
Fadinard's troubles begin when his horse eats an Italian straw hat, a hat abandoned momentarily by a married woman as she dallies with a soldier, a man not her husband.
The hat is the only one of its kind in Paris and the soldier angrily demands its replacement. The woman faints and remains in Fadinard's apartment.
This is the hero's wedding day and as he chases after another hat his trip takes him to a milliner's, a mush cafe at the home of a baroness, a stranger's apartment and the street outside the police station. His bride and her country-bumpkin family follow along thinking it is all part of the wedding celebration.
The work has been staged as a musical with an original score created by Cleveland composer Frederick Koch. The music is pleasant, lilting, a mixture of styles from Gilbert and Sullivan to Rossini. I didn't object to its quality only its quantity.
When the wedding party becomes a conga line it's fun. When sentinels break into a marching song or the wedding party emerges with umbrellas singing about jumping puddles it is standard operetta fare and does the play no service. It simply slows down the action and that's not good in a farce
Most of the individual songs say something about the action of the play. It is the production numbers that could be easily cut.
The rest of the cast is excellent with a special nod to Charles Berendt in the brief role of the wronged husband who makes something special out of the part.
The whole play is rather idiotic but it's so much fun you are likely to find yourself fascinated by it.