Chicago Theater Review: THE COWARD (Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit)

by Lawrence Bommer on September 4, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: THE COWARD (Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit)

DUEL NATURE

Robert McLean as Friedmont in THE COWARD by Nick Jones, Stage Left Theatre. Photo by Johnny Knight.In Trevor, recently produced by A Red Orchid Theatre, playwright Nick Jones delivered a sardonic and heavy-handed attack on dangerous animals kept as domestic pets. He wastes no more subtlety on Stage Left Theatre’s suitably stylized Midwest premiere of his 2010 offering The Coward. Set in 1790, this precious and overly insistent two-hour comedy, loosely tarted up in the style of Goldsmith or Sheridan, seeks to ridicule a barbaric (and far from outmoded) custom: aristocrats dueling over supposed slights to their morbidly delicate sense of honor. An equal opportunity satirist, Jones also takes swings at class snobbery, bloodthirsty ingénues, and warrior fathers who value their sons by their body count. It’s a very full plate for director Vance Smith. He gives this Monty Pythonesque nonsense an appropriate artificiality in tortured accents, inspired mugging, and combustible idiocy.

Steve Schine as Henry in THE COWARD by Nick Jones, Stage Left Theatre. Photo by Johnny Knight.

The thrust, so to speak, of Jones’ spoof of pistols-at-dawn is the epicene title character: Brian Plocharcyzk is both pathetic and winsome as the very diffident Lucidus Culling, son and heir to the arrogant and aggressive paterfamilias Nathaniel (splenetic Stephen Walker), a sire who never met a man he wouldn’t challenge to a fight to the finish. The vicious dad expects as much (or little) from Lucidus, even though the blue-blooded wimp would rather collect bugs and butterflies and cavort around town with his bilious buddies, the snobbish fop Robert Blythe (imperious Spenser Davis) and the socially insecure Gavin Klaff (a piteous Ian McLaren).

Stephen Walker as Nathaniel and Brian Plocharcyzk as Lucidus in THE COWARD by Nick Jones, Stage Left Theatre. Photo by Johnny Knight.

When craven Lucidus, whose brothers have all died in duels, demands satisfaction from a blind man who he stupidly accused of staring at him, the coward is confronted with the target’s sighted son. Fearing for his contemptible life, Lucidus retreats to a disreputable tavern where he hires a brawling thug named Henry Blaine (a testosterone-ridden Steve Schine) to fight in his name.

Ian Daniel McLaren as Gavin and Brian Plocharcyzk as Lucidus in THE COWARD by Nick Jones, Stage Left Theatre. Photo by Johnny Knight.

That silly switcheroo sets off a cascade of calamities, assorted assassinations in which the all-slaughtering Henry as “Lucidus” gains a perverse reputation as a noble hit man. Even worse, the pushy peasant engineers a kind of “identity theft,” with the complicity of Nathaniel, who prefers a murderous progeny to a scholarly spawn.

Eric Leonard as Egbert, Brian Plocharcyzk as Lucidus, and Spenser Davis as Robert in THE COWARD by Nick Jones, Stage Left Theatre. Photo by Johnny Knight.

Formerly indifferent to the cipher, Lucidus’s would-be fiancée, the supremely narcissistic Isabelle Dupree (lovely Kate Black-Spence, exuding opportunistic sadism), takes to the whelp for all the wrong reasons. By the end Lucidus is free of a homicidal legacy, his spurious honor no longer requiring an onslaught of obituaries to give it worth.

Kate Black-Spence as Isabelle and Brian Plocharcyzk as Lucidus in THE COWARD by Nick Jones, Stage Left Theatre. Photo by Johnny Knight.Intriguingly, Jones manages to fuse two infinitely greater comedies—The Playboy of the Western World, in which a fantasized crime is subverted by real ugliness, and Tartuffe, where a lower-class imposter exploits religion to take over a nobleman’s home, wife, and fortune. Jones’ dubious contribution is to inject Benny Hill-burlesque and other anachronisms into the amalgam. But, considering the content, his pastiche parody feels darker than any style can disguise.

Happily, rich caricatures abound, including Eric Leonard as assorted imbeciles and rascals and Robert McLean as, among other Hogarthian rogues and popinjays, a deadpan Jeeves worthy of Nathaniel’s twit of a Bertie Wooster. Still, despite deft comic turns, bursting blood bags, and Aly Renee Amidei’s cruelly clever costumes, The Coward remains a one-trick pony, a promising running joke that grew from a clever sketch to a bloated broadside.

Brian Plocharcyzk as Lucidus in THE COWARD by Nick Jones, Stage Left Theatre. Photo by Johnny Knight.

photos by Johnny Knight

The Coward
Stage Left Theatre
Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont
Thurs – Sat at 8; Sun at 3
scheduled to end on October 5, 2014
for tickets, call 773-975-8150 or visit www.theaterwit.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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