A delightfully twisting plot tangles romance in 'Waltz'

Ah, love! Ah, romance! Ah, the French!

Jean Anouilh's "The Waltz of the Toreadors" has everything you could possibly want in a French romantic comedy -- several attempted suicides, a couple of proposed duels, a few out-and-out brawls and, oh, yes, even a kiss or two.


Theatre Hopkins' season-opening production is also all you could want -- from the satin-draped boudoir to the charming costumes, on loan from the Canadian Shaw Festival. But most of the credit belongs to Suzanne Pratt, whose casting and direction are so adept, you can almost overlook the sexism underlying this 40-year-old script with its turn-of-the-century setting.

Anouilh's "Waltz" equates love with possession and sex with freedom. Women yearn for the former; men for the latter. In the process of pointing this out, the playwright created a philandering protagonist whose lecherous behavior seems a little less humorous in these days of increased awareness about sexual harassment.


Leon, a retired general, played with proper bluff and bluster by J. R. Lyston, is held captive by his harridan of a wife, who has been feigning illness for years to keep him by her side. Hilariously portrayed by Carol Mason, the wife -- a former opera singer -- is so overbearing she would put a Wagnerian Valkyrie to shame.

The strain on their shaky marriage increases when Leon receives a surprise visit from Ghislaine, a woman he met at a ball 17 years ago and has loved ever since. Played with spunk and determination by Maria Broom, Ghislaine initially seems stalwart and sensible. Then you remember she has spent 17 years imagining she loves a man she doesn't really know.

Silly though that may seem, it's no sillier than the notion of love at first sight, and what self-respecting romantic comedy could do without that? In this case, the malady afflicts Ghislaine and Leon's chaste secretary, Gaston, played with doe-eyed innocence by Michael Stricker.

Will Leon's wife release him so he can marry Ghislaine? Does Ghislaine still want him, or has she been lost to Gaston? And if so, what happens to Leon's two daughters, both of whom are hopelessly enamored of Gaston?

Nowadays it would take a season's worth of soap opera episodes to sort this out, but Anouilh opted for a deus ex machina solution, leading Leon to remark, "What a farce!" Indeed -- and at Theatre Hopkins, a delightfully frothy one at that.

"The Waltz of the Toreadors" continues at Theatre Hopkins

weekends through Dec. 15; call (410) 516-7159.

'The Waltz of the Toreadors'


When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.; matinees Sundays at 2:15 p.m. Through Dec. 15.

Where: Theatre Hopkins, Merrick Barn, Johns Hopkins University.

Tickets: $7.50 and $10.

Call: (410) 516-7159.

*** 1/2