BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Folks who especially dislike hearing gunshots might want to miss "The Coward," since dueling pistols erupt sporadically during the comical course of Nick Jones' new play that opened Monday at The Duke.
Set in the late 18th century, "The Coward" is a fairly amusing trifle centering on a ‘fraidy-cat aristocrat who employs a ruffian to fight a duel in his stead, with many a complication to follow.
Pitching his voice up into a fluty warble, Jeremy Strong endearingly depicts the shrinking dandy Lucidus, dimwit scion of a British clan famed for being warriors (and mostly dead because of it) whose doughty pater (Richard Poe) insists he be belligerent, too.
Hiring the disreputable adventurer Henry (a baleful Christopher Evan Welch) to be his substitute in a duel turns disastrous for Lucidus when the scoundrel later weasels into his father's affections.
Considerable bloodshed and silliness ensues, not least of which involves Lucidus' courtship of Isabelle, a self-involved heiress hilariously played with simpering gentility by apple-cheeked Kristen Schaal.
Strong's weedy, woeful looks curiously resembles Adam Sandler and in certain farcical respects "The Coward," for all of its fancy period trimmings in visuals and language, recalls Sandler's nutty films. Running a tad over two hours, Jones' cleverly written although thoroughly inconsequential two-act charade would likely be more effective with sharp editing.
Still, director Nick Gold stages the play adeptly enough and his eight-member company, prettily dressed by Gabriel Berry, portrays their characters up to the hilt. A handsome drawing room designed by David Zinn also neatly serves as a tavern and other locations thanks to Ben Stanton's lighting.
"The Coward" is presented by Lincoln Center Theater's LCT3 initiative, which develops new artists and also builds greater audiences by setting a relatively modest $20 ticket price. Certainly between their sumptuous production and all the gunfire, LCT3's latest show offers lots of bang for a mere 20 bucks.
"The Coward" continues through Dec. 4 at The Duke, 229 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (646) 223-3010 or visit www.lct3.org.