Those Horny French

Lots of door slamming in this den of iniquity

The French have always loved farce—the kind of broad physical comedy that relies more on ass-kicking than chin-rubbing. That may be the most concrete explanation for their adoration of Jerry Lewis, but long before his comic reign came Hotel Paradiso, a whimsical tour de farce by Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallieres about the occupants of a hotel of ill repute.

Henpecked builder M. Boniface arranges an amorous tryst at the Hotel Paradiso with Marcelle, the shapely wife of his stuffy architect pal M. Cot. Soon after checking into this disreputable den of iniquity, they discover they're not the only en flagrante flames in town, and everyone spends the night dashing up and down stairs, jumping in and out of beds, and contriving awkward explanations for the numerous deceptions at hand.

While contemporary productions have been adapted to such locales as postwar London or '60s California, this version keeps mostly to its period roots (it was written in 1894), save for the inexplicable accents of a few minor characters who speak with a Southern drawl or an Irish brogue. Excluding that, director Lawrence Peters' production is remarkably faithful to all the stuff that makes farce work best: comedy that's less about funny lines and plot than it is about timing, gesture and elocution.

Still, much of the humor in this piece revolves around cartoonish characters in 19th-century costumes and compromising positions. And door slamming—lots of door slamming. That's certainly enough for some people, but it provided few belly laughs. The most engaging moment was unscripted: Jason Buuck, as Boniface, improvised a few hearty chuckles around a stairwell that unexpectedly collapsed. And while the lighting and sets look nice and the performances are competent, a certain je ne sais quoi is lacking from the production as a whole—that hard-to-define but essential ingredient that separates living, breathing art from expensive wallpaper.

 
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