Cubism Crow

Every flatterer lives at the expense of those who listen to him," says French farceur Eugene Labiche in his oddly appealing Eating Crow. The 19th-century script is misogynistic, ridiculously silly and full of antiquated burlesque humor, but somehow, under the direction of Jef Johnson (one of the city's most appealing and original performers), the Main Street Theater production actually works.

Influenced by everything from cubism to film noir, the production is, above all, wonderfully inventive. Done in multiple shades of gray, designer Mims Mattair's set is painted on enormous sheets of muslin that are trussed up like a big circus tent around the stage. And everything on the stage is either too big, too small or rigged to break apart at the most surprising moment. Decked out in shades of steely, smoky grays, the actors clown around in Margaret Monostory's clever costumes, which feature bits of sunflower-yellow and skipper-blue to add a childlike charm to the show.

The performers' gestures are wildly exaggerated -- think Lucille Ball meets the Marx Brothers. De Criqueville (Jason Douglas) is the straight man who learns the lesson, but even he manages to stick his rear high into the air on several occasions. Montdouillard (Santry Rush), the foppish dandy who wears the most outlandish blue-heeled shoes and brightly colored vests, preens about the stage like a giant peacock. De Flavigny (Fritz Dickmann) is a vampirish wealthy businessman who stands serious as death with his white gloved hands spread across his chest. He speaks like a French Transylvanian.

All the strange characters tumble into each other as de Criqueville tries unsuccessfully to flatter his way into a good job and a wad of money. And though this sort of thing is not for everyone, Johnson's production is so outlandishly imagined, it's worth it just to see how far out this ingenious young director is willing to go.

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Lee Williams