Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
Pictured: Kelsey Brennan, Christopher Sheard, and Peter A. Davis. Photo by Nathanael Filbert.
By Bec Willett
The weather may be grey, but Remy Bumppo’s PUFF: BELIEVE IT OR NOT makes the theater sparkle. Translated by Ranjit Bolt, this world premiere adaptation of Eugène Scribe’s 1848 French comedy of manners is full of all the plotting, panache and pith that are hallmarks of the style. Yet while the style and era are far from our own, the message is not.
A cavalry officer of modest means, gallant Alfred d’Angremont has been fighting in the Algerian desert, pining away for his secret love. Entrenched in integrity and honor, his return to society after five years is a shock. The concept of “puff” or “lying carried to the level of speculation” is now king in this world. Surrounded by a set of bordering on ridiculous characters that can be friend and foe – as long as it serves them – even war hero Alfred questions whether this will be something he will survive.
In such a comedy, the diamonds that shine the brightest and cut the deepest are those of timing and wit. Thanks to Nick Sandys direction, the entire ensemble has harnessed the spirit of the style, yet a few truly make it shine. Among them are David Darlow’s shrewd magnate César Desgaudets, Peter A. Davis’ fawning publisher Napoléon Bouvard, and Christopher Sheard as the foppish dandy Comte de Marignan. But the brightest performance is undoubtedly Kelsey Brennan’s blue-stockinged Corrine Desgaudets. Conniving yet compassionate, Brennan embodies every character foible and nails the timing of every repartee so that not only are the machinations of puff on full display, but they are deliciously enjoyable.
The brittle façade of this society is highlighted beautifully in the design, especially the costumes of Rachel Lambert. A man devoted to the rules of honor and duty, d’Angremont’s singular military costume is gilded only with touches that show his rank and title. His opposite in every way, the puerile Comte de Marignan parades his multiple ensembles of garish brocade and showy silk, every movement purposed more for the flamboyance than the function. This commentary continues into Joe Schermoly’s scenic design in the juxtaposition between locations. The more honest, kinder César Desgaudet’s house is in a state of disrepair the walls adorned by wall coverings that are old and torn. In contrast, when introduced to the Comte de Marignan’s house, the wall coverings are replaced with ones made of overly-ornate decoration. It makes it clear that in this world there are only two options: to be a poor and kind person, or a wealthy, horrid one.
PUFF: BELIEVE IT OR NOT is the balm for the chill, the lightness of the language lifting the spirits, as the message remains: all that glitters is not gold.
PUFF: BELIEVE IT OR NOT runs through January 7th. For more information visit remybumppo.org.