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Best kept secret

The Waltz of the Toreadors at Dukesbay Theater

Aya Hashiguchi as Madame Pé and Eric Ray Anderson as General Léon Saint-Pé. Photo credit: Jason Ganwich of Ganwich Media

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Randy Clark, co-founder of Dukesbay Theater and director of the French farce The Waltz of the Toreadors, said he saw this play years ago at The Seattle Repertory Theatre and loved it, and that he has never seen it performed anywhere since. He said he does not understand why it is not being produced by other companies.

I agree. It is side-splittingly funny, and it is intelligent and well written.

The show is set in 1910 somewhere in France. Retired General Léon Saint-Pé (Eric Ray Anderson) no longer loves his invalid wife (Aya Hashiguchi), whom he suspects of being a hypochondriac. In fact, he seethes with hatred of her. For 17 years, he has been madly in love with another woman, Ghislaine (Kathryn Grace Philbrook), with whom he danced only once. She is equally in love with him. Over those many years, Léon remained true to his wife (except for some moments he managed to spend off in his garden with the household help, perhaps). Ghislaine has remained a virgin.

When Ghislaine unexpectedly shows up at Léon's home, pandemonium ensues. And she joyfully loses her virginity to say how and with whom would be a spoiler of the worst kind. Other scenes that would constitute spoilers, were I to tell about them, include many hilariously inept attempts at suicide by multiple characters.

The Waltz of the Toreadors is a turn-of-the (last)-century sex farce that is as funny today as it was when it was first performed 66 years ago. Although a contemporary version could benefit from a little trimming.

The set designed by Blake York with scenic painting by Jennifer York is gorgeous. I love the almost exclusively black-and-white furnishings and backdrops and white fleur-de-lis pattern on the black floor.

Beyond the terrific script, what makes this comedy shine is the acting of the two major characters, Anderson and Philbrook. Anderson portrays the general as so overly excitable that I feared he would have a stroke, and Philbrook is appropriately ditsy and absurd, not to mention libidinous underneath an oh-so-proper facade.

Anderson is the only equity actor in the play, and his resumé is golden. He has appeared in such popular television shows as Northern Exposure, Grimm and Twin Peaks, and on stages throughout western Washington - including (I'm quoting from his program bio) every stage in Seattle. This vast experience is clear in his depiction of General Léon Saint-Pé.

With subtlety and grace, Joseph Grant creates in Dr. Bonfant a character who is wise and witty, and who secretly thinks everyone else is an idiot. Hashiguchi, co-founder of Dukesbay, spends most of the play either in bed or shouting at her husband from off-stage. She plays Madame Saint-Pé as nasty and manipulative (no wonder her husband wants to kill her).

The physical affectations of the secretary, Gaston (Tim Takechi), seemed in the early scenes to be a bit wooden, but as the play moved through time, his demeanor made more sense and Takechi's character became more vibrant.

Other actors in the show are Jeffery Weaver as Father Ambrose, Maria Valenzuela as Madame Dupont-Fredaine, and Jackie Villava-Cua and Audrey Montague as a pair of sisters who are models of shy decorum until they become screeching shrews.

There is reality and even sadness beneath the hilarity of this French farce which, as Clark said, should be produced much more often. I am glad Dukesbay Theater is doing it.

The Waltz of the Toreadors, 7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m., Sunday, through April 9, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma, 253.350.7680, dukesbay.org

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