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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey


The always-adventurous Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey has uncovered another lost treasure with a production of Tovarich, a 1936 romp by prolific French playwright Jacques Deval and adapted in English by Pulitzer Prize author Robert E. Sherwood. A subsequent 1938 film starred Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer, but the story is perhaps best remembered as a 1963 musical starring Vivien Leigh and Jean Pierre Aumont. Leigh won a Tony Award for her turn, and many recall her doing the Charleston, a turn that millions shared when she repeated the dance on the Ed Sullivan Talk of the Town television show.

The play concerns the plight of noble Russian refugees – a grand Duchess and her titled consort – who flee the revolution with the court treasury, which was entrusted to them for safekeeping. With nothing for themselves they are forced to take employment as servants for a wealthy American family. It appears they are pursued by Communist agents and a former Soviet commissar who recognized them at a dinner party.

Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte has invested the piece with flair and romanticism, accenting several scenes with broad humorous strokes. There is a mock swordfight, brilliantly staged by veteran fight director Rick Sordelet that would be the envy of Scaramouche or Danny Kaye in The Court Jester. Cathy Street is lovely as the displaced Grand Duchess, though I'm not certain she always reached the comic potential of the piece. Jon Barker is dashing as the passionate Prince.

There is a marvelous cartoon portrait of the couple's stuffy employer, superbly played by Matt Sullivan. He has some of the play's most hilarious scenes and the play's funniest line. Nursing a monumental hangover, he moans, "A head only a guillotine could cure!" Seamus Mulcahy and Rachel Fox are amiable siblings, and Anthony Cochrane is properly villainous and suave as the manipulative commissar.

Brittany Vasta has designed both a tacky garret and an elegant Paris drawing room, and Paul Canada's apparel offers eye-filling distinction. "Tovarich" translates to "friend," and that could apply to a comforting theatrical experience.


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