By Bridgette M. Redman
“An Italian Straw Hat” is all that a farce should be. One might expect no less from the patriarch of the genre — especially when it is superlatively performed by Hope Summer Repertory Theatre.
The French farce, written in 1851 by the prolific Eugene Labiche in collaboration with Marc-Michel, has been widely adapted into movies, musicals, vaudeville and even a ballet. It had influenced farce and comedies ever since its inception, setting the gold standard.
Hope Summer Rep got all of the elements right, creating an entertaining evening for its opening night audience. They played each moment of humor to maximum effect with flawless technical support. From the characters’ exaggerated expressions to the hammed-up freezes, director James Daniels raucously milked the Kenneth McLeish translation of this farce to serve a gluttonous feast rich enough for countesses and plentiful enough for the hoi polloi.
The hapless and charming Fadinard, played by Michael Hanson, starts in trouble and never gets out of it. Hanson’s high-energy performance creates a charismatic bridegroom whose horse eats the expensive and nearly unique hat of a woman trysting with a French soldier. The soldier demands that Fadinard replace the hat so that the lady’s husband doesn’t find out about their affair.
So begins Fadinard’s chase to find a matching Italian straw hat. He tromps through the French countryside, followed by his bride-to-be (Blair Busbee) and her rustic family, while his difficulties pile on with new twists at every location. Hanson charms every woman he comes into contact with — whether on stage or off.
Costumer Dominique Rhea Glaros perfectly captures the class clashes with contrasting color palettes, while the actors support the image with their varying degrees of comfort with the clothes they wear.
Set in mid-19th century Paris, the story spans a single day — a wedding in which the bride is at worst a prop and at best an after-thought. David Studwell as the bride’s father Nonancourt drags her along to receive the ceremonies and attentions he thinks are proper. With tight shoes and a huge potted plant, he obliviously misinterprets everything around him.
Even the deaf uncle, Vizenet (Joseph Byrd), upstages the bride and nearly bumps the bridegroom out of the spotlight. Daniels expands this role with Byrd participating in the curtain speech and conducting the musical vignettes that delighted the audience during scene changes.
The Hope Summer Rep makes “An Italian Straw Hat” into everything a farce should be without the slightest bit of compromise. They joyfully tromp through the show, making it clear that good comedy is never outdated.
‘An Italian Straw Hat’
Hope Summer Repertory Theatre at the DeWitt Theatre, 141 E. 12th St., Holland. Performed in rotating repertory through Aug. 14. $17-$19. 616-395-7890. http://www.hope.edu/hsrt