In a lot of ways, the set for the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s production of TIME REMEMBERED, which opened last weekend, looks like a lot of their other sets. Hand-made, hand-painted, relatively simple and with a lot of tricks in store. As we enter the space Katherine Perry is sitting and waiting onstage, trying to hold down her frustration.
TIME REMEMBERED is about a poor young hat-maker (Perry) who is scooped up into a wealthy man’s dreamland. HIs aunt has transformed her estate into a living museum of his three-day romance with a ballerina named Leocatia, all the way down to relocating entire bars and their staff. Leocatia died at the end of the three days, and so now Prince relives those days on repeat, until our hatmaker arrives, snaps him out of it, and becomes his living lover.
French playwright Jean Anouilh wrote TIME REMEMBERED, an oddly elegiac affirmation of love’s ability to transcend illusion, class, trauma, and memory, in 1949. Compared some of Anouilh’s other works, TIME REMEMBERED can feel like a bit of fluff; for instance, Restless Heart, written a decade earlier, is a strikingly modern declaration of the insurmountability of class divides, pointing out the insuperable barriers between rich and the poor which are still fervent a topic of conversation today. TIME REMEMBERED, in contrast, could be cast as a slightly creepy proto-romcom.
Memory and loss are obsessions of Anouilh’s, but the timing of the gentle (if somewhat goofy) TIME REMEMBERED gives us another clue as to its relative gooeyness: it’s 1949, just four years after the end of WWII, the second time in two generations that France lost almost everything to invading forces. France is feverish and sore and trying to forget its own horrific past, including the grotesqueries of the Vichy regime. Anouilh offers up a lovely alternative reality.
So I wanted to see how the IRC handles TIME REMEMBERED, and try and figure out why they picked it for performance today, in 2018. It is, in fact, more interesting than a standard romantic comedy, and fortunately the IRC confronts this complexity. The whole play centers on a pair of questions. While everyone in the play wants Amanda to pretend to be Leocatia in order to assuage Albert’s love-wound:, she is critical: she asks, was Leocatia truly in love with Prince Albert, and was Albert in love with her? And if not, what did they actually feel for one another? And what is the true nature of his melancholia?
Tina Brock’s opens the play with a madcap energy as the Duchess. She darts on- and off-stage, throwing one-liners at Perry, the half-insane and invulnerable royal warden. The first half of the play is dominated by wackiness, in Brock and in the supporting cast of waiters, butlers, and taxi drivers, all brought to the Duchess’ estate to remake the Prince’s fatal three days.
Act two begins on a calmer note, balanced out by Ashton Carter’s performance as Prince Albert. If the big question in this play is what did Albert actually feel for his dead girlfriend, Carter refuses to give us an easy answer. His Albert is courteous, reserved, and obviously loveable in his princely poise. Rather than foaming at the mouth in devastated love, Carter chooses a subtler kind of attraction: his tone is more one of ownership than obsession, but we can paint our own idea of his inner life onto this inscrutable surface.
TIME REMEMBERED rests on a bit of a fault line: it’s possible that Anouilh doesn’t know exactly what he wants to say, whether he wants to write a farce or a celebration or a critique of love. The romcom fantasy of a poor woman made rich by love is somewhat tempered by Amanda’s intellectual superiority and the subtle questioning of the concept of “true love.” Anyone playing Amanda has to be able to straddle these worlds and offer a foil to each, and Katherine Perry manages to glide gracefully between them. She is first the straight-woman to the Duchess’ nonsense, then the critical eye on Albert’s musings, and, critically, still somewhat vulnerable in the face of it all.
While it’s hard to say that this production gives TIME REMEMBERED a new relevance, it’s a well-handled, well-performed, interesting evening at the theater. The IRC, and director Jack Tamburri, prove once again that they are able to pluck strange fruits out of theatrical history and serve them up ably.
[Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, 825 Walnut Street] February 6-March 4, 2018; idiopathicridiculopathyconsortium.org