Men have come up with lots of ruses for cheating on their wives, but leave it to playwright Georges Feydeau to suggest hypnotism.
“Now You See It,” translator Kenneth McLeish’s English-language version of Feydeau’s 1892 play about a despicable husband who does just that, is in its U.S. premiere and has been extended through March 27 at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
The plot concerns Victor Summersby (Kern McFadden), an aptly-described British “man of affairs,” who seems have quite a history of extracurricular activities. At the moment he is captivated by the wife of wine merchant Vole (a hilarious Ruff Yeager).
He gets away with it via a post-hypnotic suggestion which makes his wife fall asleep on a signal and not waken until he wants her to.
Victor’s wife Marie-Louise (Allison Minick), who got rid of her last husband Charlie two years ago for fooling around, tells Victor she keeps a photo of the bounder in the sitting room “to remind me not to trust you.”
The hypnosis technique has worked well until now, when a blast from Marie-Louise’s past appears in the person of one Shaftesbury-Phipps (David McBean), a prissy little man who hightailed it to India when Marie-Louise refused to marry him after Charlie’s unfortunate “argument with a number 37 bus.”
Then there’s Oriole (John Greenleaf), Summersby’s gentleman’s gentleman, who, shall we say, drinks a little, and then a little more and....you can guess.
He also dips into the regular type of magic – you know, the endless handkerchief, the small critter jumping out of a hat, that sort of thing. Victor won’t listen to Marie-Louise’s pleas to get rid of Oriole because “he taught me all I know.”
“Now You See It” is a mildly amusing, mostly standard-issue farce without slamming doors but with a feminist twist. It seems to be pleasing audiences, because it’s been extended through March 27.
The cast is fine. McFadden’s Victor is properly disgusting as the lying cheater (but charming, don’t you know?).
I haven’t read the play in French, but McLeish’s list of stock farce characters includes a slightly more modern wronged woman who decides enough is enough. Minick takes good advantage of this as she plots her revenge.
McBean is fine as the spurned lover who returns, hoping to re-ignite that flame. I’d love to see this fine actor cast as something other than the clever but snarky friend, ex-lover or whatever.
Greenleaf does what he can with the stereotyped drunk character of Oriole, but give him credit for at least trying to ride the required unicycle.
For my money, the play only kicks into high gear with the appearance of Ruff Yeager as the hulking and hilarious wine merchant Vole, with whose wife Victor is dallying.
I don’t know whether set designer Marty Burnett planned it this way, but Yeager’s comically imposing first entrance is heightened by the fact that he’s almost too tall for the door.
Speaking of Burnett, he’s provided another terrific and expansive set – a sitting-room with four doors, a fireplace, a clever bar that emerges from behind a painting, a large bay window that looks out on a gray wall, and lots of paintings.
It’s hard not to cheer for a play in which a cheated-on wife gets even, but though “Now You See It,” reportedly Feydeau’s favorite, gets a fine production, in the end it’s so busy being silly that after a while it’s difficult to care.
“Now You See It” plays through March 27, 2016 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.
Wednesday at 7 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm
Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or northcoastrep.org