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Crazy for Poetry 

The Metromaniacs at NCRT

click to enlarge Meaghan Sharrard and Austin Maisler in The Metromaniacs.

Photo by Calder Johnson

Meaghan Sharrard and Austin Maisler in The Metromaniacs.

I've written before about how the past is the ultimate foreign land, shrouded permanently by the forward nature of time in our particular dimension. We can read texts and compare accounts, study architectural systems — both physical and linguistic — all in the service of conjuring an image of a departed era. Things get even stickier if there are other intersections added to the map, a different country and language, for instance, and poetry and fiction, rather than historical prose. This was the kind of terrain that New York playwright David Ives found himself in when he composed, or in his words, "translaptated" an obscure French play from 1738 into The Metromaniacs, which is currently in production at North Coast Repertory Theatre.

The original work was written by the Parisienne poet Alexis Piron, and reveled in its farcity, satire and veiled contemporary references (there's allegedly a dig at Voltaire that scandalized him gravely), all at the expense of the more familiar narrative strengths of plot and character development. By Ives' account, La Métromanie is light, floating, hilarious and deeply unserious. His work retains some of the original's airy buffoonish-ness, but tightens up, to a degree, the story's irresolution and drifting narrative.

The first time I saw Jean Cocteau's masterpiece Orpheus, I was amazed the central figures were adored and famous for being poets, a concept that my teenage self hadn't even considered a possibility. Such is the case with The Metromaniacs, with the character Damis (played with showstopping brilliance by Jaye Templeton) sitting in as a rising star of the world of verse. Oh, by the way, did I mention the entire play is written in rhyming verse? That's just one of the daring choices by the author, many of which have the potential to fail greatly and become insufferable, none of which did.

Rather than give a convoluted recitation of the plot — in this case, plots — I'm going to try to outline this play by listing some of its ingredients. This seems like a solid approach, as Ives himself has described the play as being "A comedy with five plots, none of them important." Regarding characters, there are poets, yes, but also people obsessed with poetry from the wealthy Francalou, played with the gravity of a staid patrician by Scott Osborn, to his ditzy and lovesick daughter Lucille, presented in an inspired performance of bodice and frilled skirt acrobatics by Meaghan Sharrad. There are fake duels with fake guns, cases of mistaken identity, lamentations about love's labor's lost around those identities, and a thundering and dangerous magistrate, the closest thing to a villain in this breezy fun, embodied by actor Moss Nipkau, whose bellowing evokes the high-Farenheit gusts of the Roman god Vulcan.

Actors frequently appear behind the audience to hurl themselves towards the lights to plead their case (more often than not obscured by their own confusion regarding identity and romantic yearning), and the whole merry show rolls on in a perfect mix of bafflement and delight.

The set, so far as I can tell, is a theatrical set within the play itself, an invocation of a forest scene that, coupled with the many cases of mistaken identity, reminded me immediately of Shakespeare's As You Like It. Desire and yearning are the main fuel sources for the thrust of the action, and as such, gender, age and social station are constantly being forgotten and confused in ways that positively serves the wild comedy of the story, while subtly underlining the central absurdity of each of those designators. This play is light and delightful, being deftly unserious while enjoying the quiet revolution of pinning its satire to the absurdity of the labels and constructs that we are expected to labor under every day for the rest of our lives.

I found myself in a funny spot, largely because to enjoy this play, you have to just grip the roll bar, embrace the confusion and enjoy the ride. My attitude from the opening to the end of the intermission changed dramatically and, by the third act, I was hooting and hollering. This show is, above all else, incredibly well-acted, and extremely fun. Everyone on stage gives a solid showing, and more than anything else, I appreciate the central concept: The action is what matters most, and the kinetic expression of desire and longing forces the players into ultimately silly and intense positions. There is a resolution, of course, and the beat never stops when it comes to the rhyme of the verse. And like life itself, an appreciation of tidiness and consistent meaning is not needed or even desirable to appreciate the show.

Nothing about this spectacle requires coherent messaging. Rather, it's much better to sit back and have fun. And you will have fun, I can guarantee that. This one is a corker, with little to criticize and much to enjoy. As with live music, where the experience comes at you all at once and without narrative, I found I could just stretch out and take it in without structural preamble. Credit the playwright, but also give waves of regard to the fantastic cast, Calder Johnson's direction and scenic design, Megan Hughes' costuming and Brian Butler's lighting. Go see this one, buy some popcorn, bring your friends and fill the seats. You won't regret it.

NCRT's The Metromaniacs continues with 8 p.m. performances May 25-27, and a 2 p.m. show May 28. Call (707) 442-6278 or visit

Collin Yeo (he/him) is, all and all, just another butt in the bleachers. He lives in Arcata.


The existential crisis of No Exit is also at NCRT June 2-3 at 8 p.m., and June 4 at 2 p.m. Call (707) 442-6278 or visit


The musical adaptation of Kinky Boots sashays onto the Ferndale Repertory Theatre stage with the tale of a drag queen with big ideas for a small town June 1 through July 2. Call (707) 786-5483 or visit

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Collin Yeo

Collin Yeo

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