Jean Anouilh’s “The Rehearsal” is a comedy of manners — and ill manners — with a sucker punch at its heart.
The play, being performed by second-year students in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory, whisks you along on a light air of gossip and unexpected couplings as a group of wealthy friends prepare for a ball with entertainment at a French mansion in the 1950s. The hosts — a count and countess — and their best friends, plan to perform Marivaux’s 18th century romantic comedy “The Double Inconstancy,” depicting a love triangle involving a prince, a young woman and her lover.
You don’t see much of the Marivaux play, but it does serve as inspiration for Anouilh’s satire about the upper crust, how hard they work to maintain their social standing and the hypocrisy of their marriages as they pursue affairs with the tacit approval of their spouses.
In “The Rehearsal,” The Count (Andrew Hardaway) and his wife (Olivia Osol) enjoy their life of luxury and what many would consider an unusually open relationship. But things change when The Count becomes infatuated with the governess who has been brought in to care for a group of orphans housed on the estate each summer.
Hardaway finds delight in The Count’s discovery of a new emotion — true love — brought out by the young, innocent and lower class Lucille (Jenny Vallancourt). While The Countess can tolerate an affair with someone she knows, she can’t reconcile the change in her husband’s attitude. What do his warm fuzzies mean for their way of life? He’s already involved in an affair with her best friend, Hortensia (Katie Sah), while the Countess distracts herself with an easily frustrated man named Villebosse (Scott Shoemaker). But there’s no real feeling involved in those affairs. Tradition and stability are threatened.
In the midst of all the light humor and playfulness is the sullen, cynical and drunken Hero (Dylan Crow) who we discover has a score to settle with The Count, an old school friend. In one dark, compelling scene, the frivolity ends with tragic consequences.
The production is a throwback in time with a 20th century sensibility, captured in the scenic design of Jeffrey Weber, who creates a framework of what we assume to be a gilded palace, decorated with furnishings that could fit the 1950s or the 1750s. The same is true for Sofia Gonzalez’ costumes, filled with fine frillery.
Guest director Ashley Teague keeps it all flowing and gets winning performances from the cast.
As was true of his title role in “Oedipus” earlier this season, Hardaway has a commanding presence on stage and plays The Count as someone who is out for fun, not heartbreak. Vallancourt does a fine job balancing Lucille’s disconnect from the wealthy folks and her sudden passion for The Count with the darker moments that develop. Crow delivers a captivating performance as Hero’s rage emerges in subtle and sly ways.
Erik Meixelsperger plays Lucille’s upright godfather, Damiens, who silently wants her for himself. Sah gets to display a wide range of emotions as Hortensia, who tries to be a good friend to The Countess.
Despite recent foot surgery that requires her to use a knee scooter, Osol is captivating and cool as The Countess, and she uses the scooter to great comedic effect at times. It becomes an extension of her performance even as you quickly begin to forget it’s there. She plays a woman who is a jumble of feelings expressed though she strives to mask the feelings and hurt through stony or pleasant expressions.
The production provides fun and seriousness in an engaging combination that allows you think about relationships and the harsh nature of love.