I do not amuse easily and when something is touted as farcical, I expect it to be on point. The Artistic Home presents a sidesplitting farce with playwright Siah Berlatsky’s Malapert Love. Ensemble member, Julian Hester’s direction is a marvel of timing, visual gags, malaprops, and physical comedy. Stir in some ribaldry and scorned love with a raucous sword-fighting vagrant who huffs a turpentine and urine blend, and you have a comic winner. The Artistic Home is presenting the world premiere of Malapert Love at the Den Theatre.
The story takes place on the estate of Lord Montoya (Grant Carriker), where we find his lordship facedown on a chair sighing and bemoaning his love for the beautiful Gabriella (Karla Corona). His Fool, Molyneux (Ernest Henton), is ignoring Montoya. Molyneux is the proverbial wise Fool who advises more than amuses his lordship. Berlatsky has crafted a new take on Shakespearean form and meter. Montoya fancies himself a poet and writes horrible sonnets that are even funnier as Carriker acts them out. Molyneux warns him that the sonnet is horrible and it would repel rather than win the love of Gabriella.
Enter the spritely Skip (Declan Collins) who is in love with Montoya and dares not presume that his love would ever be returned. The beautiful castle wench Esperanza (Emilie Rose Danno) is urged by Molyneux to get Skip to be a ghostwriter and fix that wretched sonnet. Esperanza is in love with Molyneux and schemes to impress him with her problem-solving skills and make him look good for the boss. Of course, Molyneux is a dolt who cannot see that Esperanza loves him and she is too fearful to declare her love.
In lesser hands, this would be a maelstrom of dull and dreary. These actors embody the roles with physicality, perfect reactions, and timing. When Molyneux sets off to deliver the newly edited sonnet, he is beset by a pair of highway thieves (Luke Steadman and Xela Rosas) when his cries for help awaken the vagrant Phischbreath—”with a ‘ch’ thank you very much” played by Frank Nall. He seems to be a drunken bum but is an expert swordsman who beats back the highwaymen and rescues Molyneux. Nall is brilliant as the urine and turpentine-huffing swordsman. Phischbreath takes a deep huff and then spouts his stoned and briny wisdom. It is comic gold.
The wealthy and beautiful Gabriella is always accompanied by her best friend and Amazonian soldier Lorca (Jenna Steege-Ramey) Corona is a whip at acerbic and witty zingers. Steege-Ramey shines in her role as the sexy butch warrior who also is friends with Phischbreath, an expert swordsman.
The scenic design by Kevin Hagan is a labyrinth of screens covered in forest print gauzy material, Tiny fairy lights twinkle giving the set versatility, and is a fantastic way to have the rapid entries, exits, and pratfalls of a great farce. The costumes by Mary Nora Wolf and Russell Yost are great accouterments to each character. I especially liked the flowing gown worn by Gabriella in bright red and the outfit worn by the lovelorn Skip. The cap and sky-blue tunic match Skip’s charming and sweet nature.
The acting in Malapert Love is truly great. A shout out to Emilie Rose Danno as the woman scorned. Her character starts off sweet and turns into a vengeful broom-wielding Valkyrie with an endearing and ferocious battle cry. Carriker pulls off a triumph as a man who discovers his real love and inner strength to declare it proudly. Henton makes an astute and cool Fool and rocks the malaprops on Gabriella’s name. The Artistic Home gifts the audience with a talented and funny cast. I think that we will be hearing more from the playwright Siah Berlatsky. Her take on sexuality and gender is beautiful and fluid. Love and attraction don’t follow any perceived standards or societal restrictions. A person may hide what they feel or what they are, but hiding won’t change your true identity.
I will give away no more because I want you to go and see Malapert Love. In case you are wondering, malapert is defined as an impudent person who disrespects someone of higher standing. Who decides what higher standing in society means and does it matter in the ways of the heart? We all need a good laugh and this show is full of great laughs with some tugs at the heart. Well done and highly recommended.
Malapert Love runs through December 11 at the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. For ticket prices and showtimes, please visit the Den Theatre website.
For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.
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