The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium has championed neglected absurdist playwrights Eugene Ionesco and Jean Giraudoux. They've explored the absurdism in works by Tennessee Williams and even George Bernard Shaw. Now, in their 12th season, they have discovered Jean Anouilh. Their enchanting production of the Frenchman's Time Remembered (Leocadia) offers hope that they'll soon treat us to more of his 27 plays.
Director Jack Tamburri captures the play's wistful tone as adapted by Patricia Moyes, and Erica Hoelscher's whimsical set and costume designs ably assist. Six red trellises frame the Walnut Street Theatre's Studio 5 stage, with a gold curtain upstage suggesting nobility. The green Astroturf flooring and cartoon chandelier, candelabras, and statue, as well as quick, clever scene changes and character-defining outfits, emphasize the script's fantastical aspects. Maria Shaplin works subtle magic with the space's limited lighting opportunities.
Tina Brock's delightfully manic Duchess summons Amanda the Milliner (Katherine Perry) to her chateau. Amanda thinks she'll make hats, but the Duchess has selected her for an Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole adventure; Amanda will impersonate Leocadia, with whom Prince Albert (Ashton Carter) enjoyed a three-day whirlwind romance before her untimely death.
Albert has reassembled the locations, props, and people of those three magical days: a taxi with driver (Thomas-Robert Irvin), an ice-cream stand and attendant (Paul McElwee), and more. These living souvenirs sit unused, poking Albert's sore heart.
The Duchess hopes to fool Albert into feeling again. Albert sees only the effort’s futility but convinces Amanda to stay because "I'm on the verge of forgetting." He instructs her to be Leocadia, not herself.
Amanda has other plans, however, and that's when Time Remembered transforms from its sad fairy-tale beginning to a spirited struggle for Albert's soul. "You ought to try to live and be happy and forget the past," she advises, but he resists. Will he hold onto the past, or can she entice him into the present?
IRC's Time Remembered works so well because of its comedic moments. The Duchess teaches Amanda to walk like Leocadia, who, a waiter says, walked like, "A mad dog! A demented Borzoi!"
More often, the play's humor strikes a melancholy note, as when the Duchess and Lord Hector (Bob Schmidt) hunt birds but celebrate when their shots miss, or when McElwee wields bee puppets that flit around and frighten Albert. A key scene in the Blue Danube Nightclub — conjured by Irwin as a saxophone player, Corinna Burns as a nightclub singer, and McElwee and Schmidt as hapless waiters — perfectly captures the scenario's bittersweet tone. This fine cast gets it.
It isn't easy. 1812 Productions staged American playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation in 2013, and the all-comedy company didn't achieve the delicate warmth of IRC's version. Playing Time Remembered as farce flattens its fragility, and playing its characters too realistically raises multiple mundane questions, such as "what do they do all day while waiting for Albert to revisit his three days of passion?"
A broken-hearted prince wallows in sadness until challenged by an ordinary young woman. It sounds like a fairy tale, and so it is. Time Remembered is a fairy tale for adults, a gentle respite from the real world that, like all the best fairy tales, teaches us something important about life.