By Edward Kliszus

L’Amour à Passy (love at Passy) is an imaginative biopic of Benjamin Franklin (GW Reed). Franklin arrived in Paris in 1776 as an emissary from a fledgling America struggling to cast British domination from its shores. He was a widower 70 years of age dealing with the complexities of international intrigue and politics that held America’s survival in the balance. Once romantically smitten by the lovely Mme Hardancourt Brillon (Musa Gurnis), the vicissitudes of Franklin’s Parisian diplomatic foray acquired the dynamics of a prurient quest.

Musa Gurnis as Madame Brillon. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Musa Gurnis as Madame Brillon. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The lovely Mme Brillon was initially draped in period garb of celebratory décolletage. And while she continually reminded Franklin and herself of her virtuous scruples, her actions appeared at times coquettish and conflicted. She served champagne with oysters and other delectations, occasionally complied with Franklin’s requests for kisses, sat on his lap, and permitted him to stay in her home with her for months. Brillon also spoke of her love for him, a sentiment quickly checked by calling him, to his chagrin, “Papa.”

Brillon asked Franklin when he last bathed and was visibly repulsed by his malodorous state while momentarily massaging his gout-afflicted foot. Franklin incessantly complained about his skin condition as he scratched himself and, at one point, convinced Brillon to momentarily sponge his dermatitis-afflicted back while he was bathing. Some sitting nearby cringed at Franklin’s loud responses to Brillon’s sponge strokes and the occasional inferences to Franklin’s revolting odor, gout, and skin condition.

From the onset, 18th-century style music, sounds of singing birds, splendid costuming, and sensitive lighting supported this imaginative romp. We peered into a time and space when an august Franklin effectively navigated political intrigue despite any distractions from his attempts to advance his platonic relationship with the beautiful Mme Brillon.

G.W. Reed as Benjamin Franklin. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

G.W. Reed as Benjamin Franklin. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Franklin the man emerged as a frowzy, flawed, and crafty roué, relentlessly attempting to seduce the married Mme Brillon. Franklin deftly engaged and modified his façon de parler and wits to enamor the charming Brillon while initiating, to no avail, chess games with personal stakes to tarnish Brillon’s marital honor. He also delivered lines like “those who love never get old” and “Voulez-vous couchez avec moi?” – the latter drew some chuckles from the audience who likely recalled the eponymous pop song memorialized by LaBelle in 1974.

Comedic characterizations in the story encompassed the elderly Franklin’s pursuit of the young Brillon, but there’s also a dash of intrigue with a letter and invitation to Franklin from the French queen. Franklin and Brillon also explored Franz Mesmer’s theories about hypnotism and “animal magnetism” as American-French negotiations hovered nearby. Perhaps animal magnetism provided the justification Franklin sought in his lascivious quest to defile Brillon’s rectitude.

Ultimately, diplomatic efforts were successful, and Mme Brillon expressed her undying love to Franklin as they parted, noting that their intimacy could be consummated once they had rejoined in paradise. Despite our earlier discovery, he seemed disappointed that he had addressed his libidinous desires elsewhere.

L’Amour à Passy

Directed by Manfred Bormann
Musa Gurnis as Mme Hardancourt Brillon
GW Reed as Benjamin Franklin

Design Advisor Harry Feiner
Lighting Design Matthew Deinhart
Costume Design Anthony Paul-Cavaretta
Sound Design Cliff Hahn
Props and Dresser Bria Dinkins
Stage Manager Giovanni Tocco
House Manager Savanah Sanchez
Press Representative Jonathan Slaff and Associates

Runtime 1 hour and 45 minutes with intermission.

The Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at A.R.T./ New York

502 West 53rd Street
New York, NY   10019
(212) 594-5414

For tickets and information, go to https://www.art-newyork.org/theatres.

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Susan B, FUKT at the Tank, Hedda Gabler, and Fastened to the Moon.