Anyone who ushers notables to their seats in a Parisian opera house in 1875 might well be doing it with tongue in cheek. All the fun would be happening before anyone got to their box chairs.
Playwright Nagle Jackson, in "Opera Comique," has all his comedic ducks in a row, including the usher in question, Odile (Laura Gilbert). The character shares her name with the Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky's ballet, although she's as different as anyone could be. The heroine of "Swan Lake" had no gift for fun, irony or cynicism, like the usher. Nor was she saddled with accommodating more than one great composer. Jackson's Odile has to contend with two: Georges Bizet (Adam Battelstein) and Charles Gounod (John Taylor), each of whom have different personal agendas.
In the farce, Bizet is in a dither over how his "Carmen" will go over at its premiere, while Gounod, composer of "Faust" and called "The Great One," has his hands full fighting off the trollop, La Tartine (Sara Panaccio) -- a mere cabaret performer. She acts seductively toward Gounod, hoping he will promote her career as an operatic diva. Unlike most of the other characters in the farce, Bizet is too hot and bothered about the success of his opera to pay any heed to raging hormones.
Other characters are thrown into the mix. Their principal concerns are invariably affairs of the heart. These may verge on themes in "Carmen" and "Faust," although with a bit less intensity. Amorous proclivities of the characters are played out in the vestibule outside of the doors to the box seats. These are numbered "3," "5" and "7," as if to let you know what oddballs enter and exit from them.
Madame De La Corniche (Jenny Shuck) is enamored of a Parisian playboy, Paul Vigneron (Jeff Solomon), and grabs every available opportunity to sneak a kiss or embrace from him when her droll husband, (Jeff Rossman) isn't looking. Like dutiful parents, they both zealously guard the virtue of their seemingly innocent daughter, Viviane (Kate Morris). She is given to fits of weeping, laughing, or coming on strong to Paul.
Paul has his own hands full containing the amorous impulses of his son, Hector (Sam Everett) who is less discriminating than the others. He has an instantaneous eye for any woman he happens to see. Ernest Guiraud (Charles Roth), Bizet's sidekick, has the daunting task of keeping the composer composed while his opera is being performed.
Director Jane Farnol has her performers enjoying their antics immensely. All the same, farces are usually funnier when the acting is more subdued. If actions are undertaken as though performers were deadly serious rather than playing up the comedic aspect of their characters, you'd have audiences rolling in the aisles right off the bat. Actors might do well to think August Strindberg, not Commedia dell'Arte, when doing farce. Despite this, "Opera Comique" is a very enjoyable show.
David Begelman is a freelance theater reviewer in Connecticut and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.