Five sensational female dancers from the folk group Ballet Panambí Vera wearing swirling colorful indigenous dresses while performing an exhilarating Paraguayan polka is the stand alone highlight of the historical fantasia Madame Lynch. On the other extreme are three performers droning on with a lengthy list of names and characteristics of species of birds found in Paraguay. Overall, this “spectacle with music and dancing” is 80 minutes of strained whimsy.
“Our plays are darkly comic, language-drunk, full of reverence for the hand-made and therefore wholeheartedly feminist and anti-capitalist” is from The Drunkard’s Wife theater company’s mission statement. Co-artistic directors, co-writers and co-directors Normandy Sherwood and Craig Flanagin have created a good-natured piece in the manner of a picaresque fable containing some lovely moments, but incoherence and aimlessness abounds. The stylized and pseudo-Brechtian dialogue doesn’t do much to inform.
Eliza Lynch (1833-1886) was an Irishwoman who grew up in France and became a courtesan. In 1854 she began a relationship with Francisco Solano López, the son of Paraguay’s president. He later succeeded his father and Lynch became First Lady. He was killed in battle in 1870. Her time in Paraguay was controversial as she was thought to have instigated wars and conflicts. She was banished and returned to France, dying in obscurity. Thank you, Wikipedia, for these details because they’re scant in this treatment. Ms. Sherwood and Mr. Flanagin are more concerned with superficial theatrics rather than concretely crafting a comprehensible narrative chronicling the life of a fascinating figure who was a cross between Barry Lyndon and Evita.
Carrying on with grandeur is the vivacious Juliana Francis Kelly who offers a delightful turn as Lynch. The spirited company of Nikki Calonge, Braulio Cruz, Blaze Ferrer, Mieko Gavia, Kevin Green and Hannah Kallenbach portray various roles with animated glory.
Ms. Sherwood and Mr. Flanagin’s staging is adeptly presentational having a number of fine stage pictures, pageantry and an onstage band playing throughout to great effect. Choreographer Iliana Gauto of Ballet Panambí Vera’s accomplished sequences are most entertaining.
Oval frames hanging from the ceiling on which video designer David Pym’s appealing imagery are shown are a neat element of Yung Oh Le Page’s witty scenic design. Various locations are swiftly represented by Mr. Page’s inventive efforts that utilize a fireplace and simulated trees. Lighting designer Christina Tang achieves a dreamy tone though the reliance on shadows is excessive. Flanagin’s original score is a rousing assortment of marches and pleasing incidental music. It and other effects are well rendered by his sound design. The wacky period costume design of Sherwood with Nikki Luna Paz and Chelsea Collins visualizes the characters with puckish flair.
Madame Lynch is an amiable hodgepodge that is rarely involving as it is chiefly impenetrable.
Madame Lynch (through June 15, 2019)
The Drunkard’s Wife
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.thedrunkardswife.com
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission