Master wordsmith David Ives has struck gold so many times now (Venus in Fur, All in the Timing, New Jerusalem) with his dizzying, intellectual loop-de-loops. But The Heir Apparent, his new translation of a classic French farce playing at Classic Stage Company through May 4, merely strikes bronze. The madcap laffer has no shortage of jokes and gestures thrown at each of the four sides of Classic Stage’s playing area, but one wishes more of them actually stuck.
Written in rhyming couplets (a tactic used to better effect with terrific ham-ster Hamish Linklater in Ives’ The School For Lies three years ago at CSC), Heir pits a trio of schemers (Carson Elrod, Claire Karpen, and Dave Quay) against decrepit, phlegm-hocking old Geronte (Paxton Whitehead) in a bid to claim the latter’s inheritance since he appears to be kicking the bucket any hour now. Or is he? As with any slapstick narrative, the machinations of the group soon draw even more plotters, including a ruthless dowager (Suzanne Bertish) and Geronte’s cunning bride-to-be (Amelia Pedlow). The only innocent is a dwarf-life lawyer (played deliciously, and on his knees, by David Pittu), whose inability to keep up with the scoundrels vying for Geronte’s coin proves an endurance test.
The machine-gun ratio of jokes to spoken lines is about three to one. But since so many of them pivot to the scatological, the result becomes more wearying than cheering (and yes, many of the rhymes are just like this one). Take this bit, for example:
Your soup-slash-laxative? That healing draft?
I irrigated him both fore and aft.
He popped up blinking, did a quick pavane,
And hopped a polka to the closest john.
Many of these literate quips are quite funny; others produce mere eye rolls. The cast is game, if a bit over directed by John Rando; veterans Whitehead and Bertish give the more finely detailed, least caffeinated performances. (Elrod, a great clown and fully committed to his role, is so over-the-top here you want to hand him some beta blockers.) Much like the braying, flatulent central clock that the characters take pains to express their dislike of, The Heir Apparent strikes the same chord a bit too often. B-