Geronte (c. Julian Lopez-Morillas*) finds himself surrounded by imposters (l. Khalia Davis*, r. Patrick Kelly Jones*) as Lisette (back, Katie Rubin*) fears the plan is backfiring in Aurora’s Bay Area Premiere of The Heir Apparent. Photo: David Allen
Geronte (c. Julian Lopez-Morillas) finds himself surrounded by imposters (l. Khalia Davis, r. Patrick Kelly Jones) as Lisette (back, Katie Rubin) fears the plan is backfiring in Aurora’s The Heir Apparent. Photo: David Allen

I just saw playwright David Ives’ witty and wild re-imagining of the early 18th-century French comedy, Le Légaire Universel by Jean-François Regnard. And I’m very glad I did. The super-creative Ives has taken a mild comedy by a Molière wannabe from the Commedia dell’arte school, and created what he calls a transladaptation, which turns the original material into a priceless combination of an 18th-century bawdy French farce and 21st-century clever American comedy — all in creatively rhymed couplets. It takes an ingenious writer to rhyme Kosher and gaucher.

The first-rate cast features California Shakespeare favorite Julian López-Morillas (The Aspern Papers, Nora,) as Geronte, the old, ailing, cantankerous miser (yes, shades of Molière). Geronte’s maidservant, Lisette (excellent Katie Rubin), his nephew, Eraste (notable Kenny Toll, Shotgun Players’ Eurydice, Antigonick) and his nephew’s servant, Crispin (sparkling Patrick Kelly Jones, Metamorphosis, Detroit) can’t wait for Geronte to kick the bucket and leave his fortune to Eraste.

Once Eraste has inherited his uncle’s riches, he can marry his dream girl, Isabelle (Khalia Davis), since Isabelle’s mother (Elizabeth Carter) won’t permit her daughter to marry a pauper. She’d rather see Isabelle marry old Geronte, if he lives long enough. And Geronte has other far-flung beneficiaries in mind rather than Eraste. What to do?

As is typical, the servants, Lisette and Crispin, lovers themselves, are the savviest of the household. Their hilarious shenanigans steal the show, while they plot and scheme to ensure that Geronte’s last will favors Eraste. Their hijinks include various impersonations and disguises, all in the name of love … and love of money.

Just when you think playwright Ives has run out of comical material, a new character enters, the strangely short lawyer, Scruples. As Lisette quips, He hired a lawyer no taller than a creeper. As if because he’s short, he might come cheaper. Lawrence Radecker, playing the height-disadvantaged Scruples, on his knees with shoes showing beneath his floor-length robe, deftly turns his small part into an unforgettable feature.

Director Josh Costello (Wittenberg, Detroit) skillfully keeps the first-rate cast moving with perfect timing, to the inevitable happy ending. I could have done without some of the potty jokes that crowd the first act, but they are more than counterbalanced by David Ives’ amusing and inventive writing and rhyming. The result is an absolutely delightful evening of theatre.

The Heir Apparent runs through May 22,. For information, extended performance dates and tickets, visit Aurora online.

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Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...