Dukesbay Productions brings Jean Anouilh’s seldom-performed comedy The Waltz of the Toreadors to Tacoma. The production’s ambitions often surpass the cast’s ability, but the quality of the script still makes for an enjoyable night at the theater.
The Waltz of the Toreadors was first performed in 1951, but the clever script can still make present-day audiences laugh and relate. In 1910 France, General Saint-Pe wants to leave his hypochondriac wife for Ghislaine, a woman he met seventeen years ago at a ball. When Ghislaine suddenly appears at his house, wanting him to end his marriage and finally consummate their relationship, the General’s life quickly spirals out of control. Farcical events ensue, complicated by age, sex, and social norms. Beyond the comedy, Anouilh, a contemporary of Sartre and Camus better known for his adaptations of classics, brings existential elements to the play.
Despite some engaging performances, the cast ultimately does not perform to the standard of the material. Lead actor Eric Ray Anderson is wonderful as the raging, impotent General Saint-Pe. The humanity he brings to such a misogynistic, self-righteous, and hypocritical character keeps us invested in the character’s journey while we laugh at his bumbling exploits. The scenes between the General and Doctor Bonfant, played wryly by Joseph Grant, are the highlights of Waltz of the Toreadors. Kathryn Grace Philbrook also gives a charming performance, winning the audience’s laughs and sympathy by leaning into the sweet but unhinged character of Ghislaine.
While other cast members do have some entertaining moments, this production is often dragged down by bad performances. Most scenes are either plagued by cartoonish over-acting, or someone too busy struggling to remember their lines to act at all. Whatever ambitions director Randy Clark had for this production are squandered by the poor quality of the acting in several key scenes.
The show’s technical aspects are all effective and support the story. Jeffery Weaver’s costumes, Blake York’s scenic design, and Nic Olson’s lighting make for a charming period aesthetic. The Dukesbay Productions theater space has a welcoming, home-grown atmosphere, and feels like someplace one would want to return.
Dukesbay’s The Waltz of the Toreadors is a funny but uneven take on an interesting, rarely-performed play. While it’s not the most prestigious production around, it’s worth seeing as part of a night out in Tacoma.
The Waltz of the Toreadors by Jean Anouilh. The Dukesbay Theater, 508 6th Avenue, Tacoma, 98402. March 24 – April 9. Thurs – Sat 7:30 p.m., Sun 2 p.m. Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2888358 Info: https://dukesbay.org/shows/