Montgomery Sutton and Emilie Soffe in TJ Edwards’ Candide. Photo by Neal J. Freeman.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’ve ever been required to read Candide and wanted to see it done live, TJ Edwards’ adaption of this farcical tale is a great choice.
For that matter, if you’ve never seen a farce before, this is a great chance to whet your whistle. Farce is highly exaggerated comedy and, if done well, is a great tool for getting a playwright’s philosophical agenda across while being truly funny and tongue-in-cheek about it. Edwards has harnessed Voltaire’s philosophical agenda and swirled in a touch or more of current events bringing that agenda to today’s mind; the Gallery Players offer us a ton of tongue.
Voltaire’s Candide, as Edwards mentions in the program notes, was not popular when it was written 250 years ago – it was banned and shunned by all (even intellectuals). I can only imagine this is due to the folly of truth it conveyed: to believe that everything is just peachy and will all work out for the best is a ridiculous claim and we will all be damned for it in one way or another in the end. And that’s what we find out in this Candide too: after many hills and valleys, many different countries, and people come and gone, Candide himself finds nothing is as he optimistically thought it would be and is easily disappointed with his life of optimism. Still the play tidies it all up at the end in an I-guess-we’re-not-entirely-unhappy(ly) ever after ending. Regardless, the play is ever the fun romp it intends to be.
Most notable in this production is the text itself: Edwards punches the audience’s ears with pop out rhymes (“In the name of Mohamat, I ask you to stop it!” - yes, it seems like no big deal, but in the moment of the play, it really strikes you) and lures us by using today’s common vernacular peppered throughout to ease us into Candide’s journey. The best offset to a clever script is a very minimal set: Candide uses two traveling trunks masquerading as the ever changing environment augmented every so often by a chair or two or a strip of fabric. And incredibly effective costuming should be noted as well: my favorite, by far, is some fast use of black smudging to make an appendage disappear.
Some exceptional players in this ensemble piece are Kyle Metzger, Andrew Davies and Patrick Toon, all three of whom are incredibly funny and on point with superb dialect/accent work, crisp comedic takes to the audience, and physicality/clown work to be rivaled. Two other highly adept technicians: Alice Winslow (Cunegonde) pushes limits with her overboard damsel in not-so-much-distress but rather just in an otherwise off-putting situation and Emilie Soffee (Cacambo) is very grounded as a real young boy. Montgomery Sutton (Candide) carries the entire play on his shoulders well, as a very average Joe just trying to figure it all out.
If you’re up for a laugh and feel like a farce, you would do well to check this production out.
(Candide or Optimism plays at the Gallery Players, 199 14th Street in Brooklyn, through June 20, 2010. Remaining performances are June 12th at 2pm, June 13th at 7pm, June 19th at 2pm, and June 20th at 7pm. Tickets are $18 or $14 for senior and children under 12, and can be purchased at galleryplayers.com or by calling 212.352.3101.)