Last night marked the opening of a rarely produced, 100-year-old play – Fantasio by Alfred de Musset – as part of the PhD Director’s Series at WSU’s Studio Theatre.
Considered to be one of the masterpieces of dramatic French literature, it was never performed in Musset’s lifetime. Don’t feel bad for Musset. The piece was written as an ‘armchair drama,’ without consideration for the production implications of frequent scene changes, elaborate period costumes, large casts, etc. It was intended to be a good read.
It is also worth noting that Musset wrote it while involved in a passionate affair with Amantine Dupin, better known as novelist George Sand. Sand was controversial and unconventional – she wore men’s clothing and smoked in public – and her influence seems to inform Musset’s deliberate twist on romantic conventions.
Fantasio might be called a ‘happy never after’ romance.
The Princess Elsbeth, played by the talented Elizabeth ‘Zee’ Bricker, has been promised in marriage to the Prince of Mantua in order to avoid prolonged war. Although the Princess has been fed a steady stream of romantic stories by her loving governess (Nancy Florkowski), Elsbeth is one of the few sensible people in the play. She is willing to marry the prince to save further bloodshed. It’s a calculated sacrifice.
Matthew Kurtz is fun to watch as the foppish, ill-tempered prince – a comical character who ultimately reveals a more sinister nature. The Prince decides to swap identities with his aide-de-camp in a romantic device that backfires; everyone thinks the ‘aide-de-camp’ is an idiot – especially the unsuspecting Princess.
The eponymous Fantasio, played by Robert J. Hammond, is a gentleman who is deeply in debt and dresses up as the court jester to hide from his creditors. He falls in love with the Princess and, in a drunken state of hooliganism, tries to thwart her marriage. The consequences fall short of the happy ending we’ve come to expect from Disney fairytales – kind of like life.
The director of Fantasio, third-year PhD student Michael Butterworth, hopes audiences will enjoy the chance to see this historical piece. ‘I’ve loved this play for a long time and the Studio Theatre is the perfect place to stage this production,’ says Butterworth. ‘I love this venue’s intimate and somewhat quirky character.’
Butterworth is supported by Rosa Hernandez (Stage Manager), Lois Bendlar (Scenic Designer and Property Master), Anne Suchyta (Costume Designer), Gabriel Rice (Lighting Designer), and Patrick Pozezinski (Publicist).
The cast includes: Maggie Beson as Flamel the page and Serving girl; Ethan Brenningen as Tailor; Elizabeth “Zee” Bricker as Princess Elsbeth; Kristin Dawn-Dumas as Spark; Nancy Florkowski as Governess; Robert J. Hammond as Fantasio; Sarah Kline as Queen of Bavaria; Matthew Kurtz as The Prince of Mantua; Doug Lubaway as Hartman; Daniel Miller as Rutten; Anthony Scamihorn as Facio; and Stuart Sturton as Marinoni.
Fantasio runs through January 28 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12 and are available by calling (313) 577-2972, online, or by stopping at the Wayne State University Theatres Box Office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock. The Studio Theatre is located on the lower level of the Hilberry Theatre.