The Metromaniacs is an adaptation of an obscure play from 1738 called La Métromanie, written by Alexis Piron—a poet who failed to make it in to the acclaimed Académie Française due to the lewd content of some of his writing. The production by the Red Bull Theater Company, however, is credited primarily to David Ives, who writes in the program note: “The Metromaniacs is a comedy with five plots, none of them important.” That sums up the one hour-and-45-minute farce and is also what makes the play so delightful. It is a classic comedy of mistaken identity, love at first sight, and, well, absolute fluff.
In Piron’s day, La Métromanie bore an awful lot of resemblance to a scandal involving Voltaire. The celebrated poet-philosopher had proclaimed his love for the poetess Mademoiselle Malcrais de la Vigne, who turned out to be a man writing under a false name so he could make fools out of the poetry world, which had not appreciated his work. Both La Métromanie and The Metromaniacs take this plot of mistaken identity and run with it.
The play is set in the home of Francalou (played by a heart-warming Adam Lefevre), an older poet who is being published under an assumed name. He decides to throw a party and play for his poetry-obsessed daughter, Lucille (a whimsical Amelia Pedlow), who is home from school, and to invite all her suitors to attend in hopes of getting her to lift her head out of her books and find some vigor for life.
Francalou has a reputation for boring poetry, but his friends aren’t aware that he also writes under a lady’s name, and her work is popular. Among Francalou’s young guests are a famous poet named Damis (a boisterous Christian Conn), who appears at the party disguised and accompanied by his valet, Mondor (Adam Green), and a love-struck Dorante (Noah Averbach-Katz), the son of Francalou’s enemy. With all these pen names and all this love in the air, things are bound to get a little wacky.
Things also get a little wild when the characters in the play are cast in Francalou’s play within-a-play, so that characters disguised as other characters are now playing characters in a play! It’s a lot to remember, but thankfully the witty maid Lisette (Dina Thomas) helps keep everyone in line, along with nice recaps of the plot given by Mondor.
Still, with all these plots, the comedic timing and special moments in the play occasionally feel a little lost. When Damis’ grumpy uncle, a judge from Toulouse named Baliveau (Peter Kybart) comes to Francalou’s party to seek help quashing the writing career of Damis, Francalou is willing, as long as Baliveau agrees to play the uncle in his play that night. Later, Baliveau is rehearsing a scene when Damis enters: the nephew is surprised to see his uncle, and then confused about whether his uncle is talking to him—since the dialogue his uncle is rehearsing could apply to him or fit the characters in the play-within-a-play. The scene seems to fall a little flat, with the actors knowing they are making jokes, and not really living inside the world of the play. (Ives himself sporadically adds yet another layer as he sprinkles modern references, e.g., to a subway, that are meant to go over the heads of the characters and land with the audience.)
Ives’s translation and adaptation is smart, amusing, perfectly silly and completely conveys the whimsical world of the play. Under Michael Kahn’s tidy direction, the actors handle the rhymes quite well and are able to keep the tempo of the play moving forward, even if at times it feels a bit over-rehearsed.
Still, despite a few missed moments, The Metromaniacs is enchanting. The fantastical set design by James Noone and the elaborate 18th-century costumes by Murell Horton create a delightful world for the romantic and poetic adventure that unfolds at Francalou’s.
In the last scene of the comedy, Lefevre as the older poet takes a breath and addresses the audience about the play:
Too mad, you say? Too many a twisted switch?
It’s how my plays are made—and why I’m rich.
I wish you all such madness, as your friend,
And may your exposition never, ever end!
In its striking honesty, it is possibly the best moment in the play.
The Red Bull Theater production of The Metromaniacs runs through May 26 at the Duke (229 W. 42nd St.). Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Tickets can be purchased at The Duke Box Office or by calling (212) 343-7394. For more information, visit redbulltheater.com/the-metromaniacs.