LEWISTON – With wild leaps from tender romance to outrageous drunken lust, “The 13th of Paris” takes its audience at The Public Theatre on a theatrical roller coaster ride.

This relatively new play by Mat Smart is having its third-ever production in Lewiston continuing Thursday through Sunday. The six-character cast is outstanding; the imaginative set works well; and this something-for-everyone show has some delightful moments.

Unfortunately, the flip side is that everyone is likely to find something not to like. I wish it could have focused more on the sentimental side of Vincent’s lessons in l’amour in Paris; others might say forget the mush and give me more of the bawdy no-holds-barred performance of his two friends in France.

Somewhere in between, “The 13th of Paris” accomplishes the aims of its author under the capable direction of Janet Mitchko. It connects the extremes by showing the lead character’s confusion about his current matter-of-fact relationship with a girl in Chicago, and proving that love is neither endless idealism nor nonstop sex.

Pierre-Marc Diennet is excellent in the role of Vincent, a young American who is desperately seeking this understanding of love. His impulsive trip to Paris lands him in the former apartment of his dead grandparents in the 13th district of Paris. Vincent has brought a suitcase full of his grandfather’s love letters, and the charming ghost of the man guides Vincent in matters of the heart.

Rob Frankel plays the suave Jacques to perfection. He insists that writing frequent letters filled with small but vital bonds is the key to lasting love. He’s appalled that texting has taken its place.

Vincent’s visit from his grandfather also includes some lovely scenes with Chloe, his grandmother, played by Elizabeth Days. She is the perfect example of an idealized love, and her sweet and quiet characterization fully justifies Jacques’ adoration.

Tarah Flanagan portrays Annie, Vincent’s level-headed girlfriend who turns out to have a surprisingly busy past. She appears at the beginning and end, and delivers a very good performance that supports Vincent’s befuddlement over his love life.

Alison Frederick and Brad Fraizer are Jessica and William, two of Annie’s friends living in Paris. Vincent and Annie attended their wedding, and then Vincent calls and suggests they come to see him at the apartment.

The two who arrive in the middle of the night don’t act anything like the ones he remembers. Jessica is soused out of her mind and intent on making it with William at any time and anywhere possible. William is just trying to keep up with her out-of-control libido. Vincent tells William the wine-fueled passion of his wife isn’t love, and he gets a punch in the mouth for his trouble.

Both Frederick and Fraizer deliver a rousing romp, in contrast to the reasoned approach to love that Jacques tries to convey.

“The 13th of Paris” packs a lot of symbolism and mental stimulation into a nearly two-hour performance without an intermission. There’s the pinstriped suit worn by Jacques that Vincent acquires in an attempt to mirror him. There are dozens of love letters literally floating on the winds of Paris. And there’s a bright orange watering can that holds some ultimate answers.

Whether audience members find too much of this or too little of that, the play delivers genuine entertainment from beginning to end.

The production benefits from imaginative set design by Michael Reidy and good lighting design by Bart Garvey. Kathleen P. Brown provided appropriate costume design and Hope Rose Kelly was stage manager for the fast-moving production.


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