Theater review: ‘The Heir Apparent’ at Stage West

Jesse Elgene, Taylor Whitworth, Jeff Wittekiend in ‘The Heir Apparent’
Jesse Elgene, Taylor Whitworth, Jeff Wittekiend in ‘The Heir Apparent’

— The past, present and future get all tangled up in a most delightful way in Stage West’s production of The Heir Apparent, which opened Saturday.

The past is represented by this play’s source material, an early 18th century farce by French playwright Jean-Francois Regnard titled Le Legataire universel, which reflects the strong influence of the king of French farce, Moliere. Regnard’s main character in this comedy is a blending of the indelible title characters of two Moliere classics, The Miser and The Imaginary Invalid.

But in The Heir Apparent, that ancient text has been adopted for present-day audiences by David Ives. It retains its original time setting and period look. And it is even written in rhyming couplets, as was the fashion in Regnard’s day. But Ives has updated the script with a more contemporary personality that includes a number of anachronistic references, ranging from Kool-Aid to tweeting.

The future appears in the form of the young actors joining the seasoned professionals in this show, which is directed by TCU theater professor Krista Scott and billed as a co-production by Stage West and Theatre TCU.

The focus of the play’s attention is Geronte (Jim Covault), a wealthy old man who appears to be standing at death’s door due to a litany of extremely disgusting illnesses, the details of which are revealed (and heard) at great length. If you think the fart joke is a recent innovation, this script will teach you differently.

Geronte is surrounded by a collection of characters who all have their eyes on his francs. They include a female friend, Madame Argante (Judy Keith), her daughter Isabelle (Lucy Given), and Geronte’s nephew, Eraste (Jesse Elgene), who is Isabelle’s suitor. Cracking wise in the background are Geronte’s servants, the valet Crispin (Jeff Wittekiend) and the maid Lisette (Taylor Whitworth). Also, the vertically-challenged lawyer, Scruple (Randy Pearlman), also gets thrown into his maelstrom of greed and dim-witted conspiring.

The common goal of these characters is a piece of Geronte’s fortune. Their success depends on two events: the writing of a will and Geronte’s demise.

The penny-pinching Geronte, however, does not seem too anxious to provide either solution. So the would-be inheritors set themselves to the task of getting the will written, while taking it as a given that the old geezer will soon be going to be with Elvis without any push at the graveside from them.

It is no spoiler to say that everything that can go wrong, does. And every inept (and often unexpected) move made by the conniving characters makes for a new layer of comic silliness.

While this script offers a ton of wacky fun, the most appealing aspects of this production are its acting and its look. Scott has done of superb job of preparing a cast that is exceptionally balanced, despite the wide range of ages and experience levels seen on the stage. All the players embrace the rhythms of Ives’ text and the extravagant zaniness of their characters with consistent ease.

In terms of its visual elements, Covault has again given us a gorgeous set that supports the story’s time and the place as effectively as Aaron Patrick DeClerk’s outstanding costumes.

Be warned that the Baroque style and low humor of this bit of foolishness may not be to everyone’s taste. But if you are a fan of either Moliere or the Three Stooges, this could be the show you have been waiting a few centuries to see.

The Heir Apparent

Through Dec. 13

Stage West

821 W. Vickery Blvd.

Fort Worth

7:30 p.m. Thursdays (except Nov. 26); 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays