Single Action Theatre Company, at Raven Theatre.
This evening of two seldom-performed short plays by 19th-century French playwright Eugene LaBiche, a master of the boulevard farce, successfully entertained the popular audience by mocking the conflicts and tensions of domestic life. Unfortunately, Single Action's production doesn't make LaBiche's work relevant to a contemporary audience; sitting through these tales of courtship and honor is more like studying a footnote to theater history than rediscovering engaging, vital work.
In a successful farce we empathize with the characters, who are driven by their obsessions to do foolish, irrational things. A cheapskate will do absolutely anything to avoid spending money; a Don Juan will do anything but take no from a woman. But in this production of LaBiche's A Slap in the Farce and A Matter of Wife and Death, directed by Chuck Coyl, the characters come across simply as fools, because the actors rarely discover the passion of their characters' needs. LeCouque in A Slap in the Farce should be a miser, but this LeCouque is only a bit cheap. So it makes no sense when he embraces as his son-in-law the man he was about to kill, simply because he finds out the louse is rich.
Though LaBiche's plays are dated in their manners, gender and class roles, and approach to racial issues (even the lowly maid wouldn't marry if it were to--oh! an American Indian!), they still contain funny scenes: certain domestic tensions are apparently timeless. It would be nice to see these farces infused with some originality, and even to see their prejudices played with the irony of a 1995 point of view; perhaps Single Action's revivals will at least inspire someone to reconsider LaBiche's legacy.