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An interview with Michael Kahn, The Metromaniacs director, and Artistic Director of STC
What prompted you to select The Metromaniacs?
Our relationship with David Ives has been a tremendous one. His previous two translations of French verse comedies for us have become staples of theatres all through the United States. We wanted to find a third, to make a trilogy. The last two (The Liar and The Heir Apparent) were both from the 17th century, and we decided we wanted to find one from the 18th century, from one of the heirs of Molière and Corneille. We ended up finding a play that had been a huge success at the Comédie-Française but which had never been translated into English.
It’s a lovely romantic satire. Like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, it’s about confused identity: a group of people who are addicted to poetry—hence the title, The Metromaniacs—fall in and out of love. The play is like a hall of mirrors: the set consists of a forest inside an 18th-century ballroom. It’s been created as the set for a play written by a father to wake up his dreamy daughter to reality. There’s a sense of chaos to the play that David finds very amusing, as do I.
Can you share a little about the process of working with David Ives?
So much of my work is with writers who are no longer with us. I have to spend a lot of time trying to get into the writer’s imagination and heart. It’s a great pleasure to be able to work with David. He’s so talented and quick, so eager to keep looking at the script and improving it. His French is impeccable, so I know that the spirit of the original play is there, but his imagination is so fertile that I know that he is improving on it, especially for modern audiences. He didn’t know this play and he really liked it when we sent it to him. He has done several drafts, and one of the great things is that he comes to rehearsals and he immediately knows, “that doesn’t work, that doesn’t work,” and he fixes it right away. It’s fun to be casting with him, to have him there while we’re casting the play.
I’m so pleased how successful he has become as well. Venus in Fur was the most-produced play in regional theatre last year, and several years before it was The Liar—and I know pretty soon it’s going to be Heir Apparent. It’s just great that he has continued his relationship with us. We’re looking around for the next play— but I don’t think it will be a French one. It’s going to be something else.
How does this piece connect to Tartuffe?
As part of the Clarice Smith Repertory, I wanted to do a French comedy repertory, so here we have an unknown play in The Metromaniacs, and with Tartuffe we have what many of us consider the greatest French comedy.
This is a genuinely light-hearted play. They can expect very, very clever wordplay, with lots of characters both playing themselves and playing a “part”—the lover, the sexy maid, the witty servant. All of those types are in it, but some of them have been turned upside down. We are doing it in the century it was written, so Murell Horton’s costumes are going to be quite beautiful, Jim Noone’s set will be elegant and charming and amusing. I’m glad to be working with that team of people.
The Metromaniacs begins February 3 in the Lansburgh Theatre.