We can thank the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium for giving us the opportunity to see plays – often classics – that remain otherwise unstaged by artistic directors who consider them toughies for audiences. That’s because the plays are generally absurdist – and the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Constortium lives for the absurd.
The stage company makes the absurd come alive in ways playwrights intended: In nonsense, we see meaning.
The company is currently producing Jean Anouilh’s “Time Remembered” on the Walnut’s fifth-floor stage and although the play is far from more absurd works the IRC has tackled, it’s a pretty strange comedy. In a gratifying production directed by Jack Tamburri, it’s also a meaningful look at the way memory can subvert reality and in this case, the ability to love.
“Time Remembered,” which premiered in Paris in 1940, is about a prince (played by the credibly overtaken Ashton Carter) who’s spent only three days with a famous ballerina before she died Isadora Duncan-style, strangled by her long scarf. In the two years since, the prince has been inconsolable.
He sits or walks where they walked. Lovesick, he broods, replaying the mental tape of those days. (In fact, the more we learn about the ballerina, the more we see the way his enchantment blurs his judgment. She sounds every bit a diva.)
His aunt, a kooky duchess (and played just like that by IRC leader Tina Brock), has tried to bring the prince back to the present. She even took him on a 122-day cruise, with him “sitting in his cabin gazing at a photograph of his dear departed and me sitting in mine, gazing through the intervening keyhole … We returned home with all speed. We both needed a rest.” The duchess tells this to a young hatmaker (Katherine Perry, handling her role with nuance) she’s snookered into coming to her estate. The hatmaker looks just like the ballerina and the duchess browbeats her into recreating those three days, perhaps to bring the prince out of his misery.
The play had a healthy run in the 1957-58 season on Broadway, where Helen Hayes won a Tony Award for her duchess. Like the current Idiopathic Ridiculopathy production, that one used an English translation from the French that’s become standard, by the late Patricia Moyes, a British mystery writer and an editor at Vogue. The translation – and probably Anouilh’s original – sometimes feels stilted, but that’s also a result of some of the play’s absurd dialogue. I bring this up because in the end, the production’s jaunty cadence always overcomes the script’s. It swings happily from scene to scene, richly outfitted by Erica Hoelscher’s costumes (she also did the set) and brightly lit in Maria Shaplin’s design.
The supporting cast – Corinna Burns, Paul McElwee, Bob Schmidt, and Thomas-Robert Irvin — is responsible for many of the lightest moments and Irvin supplies clarion saxophone riffs that take this production up another notch.
“Time Remembered,” produced by the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, runs through March 4 in the 5th-floor studio at Walnut Street Theatre, on Walnut Street between Eighth and Ninth Streets. 215-285-0472 or IdiopathicRidiculopathyConsortium.org. The show is a part of Philly Theatre Week, which runs through the first part of the show’s run. Discount tickets may be available here.