Time Remembered, Jean Anouilh’s charming play being performed through March 4 by the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium at Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, is about that particularly French literary obsession, the past, which Beckett called in his essay on Proust “the calamity of yesterday.” But although this play is about the calamity of l’amour perdu, it is, oddly, also a comedy about l’amour found.
There is a duchess (the pitch-perfect Tina Brock), an “extremely influential old woman and ludicrously rich” who still who talks to her husband the duke although he’s been dead for 15 years. She dotes on her nephew, Price Albert (Ashley Carter), who has never recovered from falling in love with a ballerina named Léocadia, who died, Isadora Duncan-style, by scarf. He is suicidally miserable. The duchess, to cheer him up (the logic is bizarre, but never mind) has had all the places of their romance reconstructed on her vast estate.
To complete the illusion, she hires a Parisian milliner, Amanda (Katherine Perry) to impersonate the dancer. Amanda discovers that everyone who works on the estate has been hired as a “souvenir,” enacting the prince’s past. Although this charade does not exactly rescue Albert from the sadness of the past, it does provide him with a happy present as he discovers the living woman in front of him.
If we keep in mind that the play was written in 1940, when France was occupied by the Nazis, the exchange between Amanda and the taxi driver (“Are you free?” “Of course I am free, am I not a Frenchman?”) takes on resonance. We should realize, all these years later, that this seemingly frothy play must have had pointed political overtones. Along the way, we meet a variety of characters, some servants, some aristocracy, played with a variety of costumes and hairdos and accents by Corinna Burns, Thomas-Robert Irvin, Paul McElwee, and Bob Schmidt.
Jack Tamburri directs. The costumes and set (designed by Erica Hoelscher) remind us not only of the long-ago past but also, as somebody carries onto the stage a plant made of a painted piece of wood, of the fraudulence of theater.
Best dialogue in the show: “Are you mute?” “Yes.”
Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium. Through March 4 at Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, 825 Walnut St. Tickets: $17-$25. Information: idiopathicridiculopathyconsortium.org.