It’s as if Edith Wharton had slipped just the tiniest bit of a hallucinogen into her tea. Everything’s under control and then suddenly, a tango breaks out of nowhere. Well, why not? Though Jean-Luc Lagarce’s “Rules for Good Manners in the Modern World” is inspired by a late-nineteenth-century French manual for society types called “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” this playfully absurdist T.U.T.A. production (part of the Playing French festival) invariably brings to mind the elegantly codified life of Wharton’s Old New York. Intended as a monologue for a single actress, director Zeljko Djukic has re-imagined the play with three performers who traverse the shiny black runway-like stage as if readying for a beauty pageant. Dressed identically in long, close-fitting black velvet skirts, white blouses with frilly collars and hair tied up in a messy collection of buns and braids (the costumes and set are courtesy of Djukic’s exceptionally talented wife, Natasha), two of the three women—Jennifer Byers and the droll and understatedly manic Kate Martin—take turns explaining to the audience the precise rules that accord to one’s birth, wedding and death. In the background, the birdlike, enigmatic Dalia Cidzikaite nods and clasps her hands silently. It’s a little creepy and very, very funny. As they segue from one chapter to the next, the women take small breaks to fix their lipstick or the aforementioned tango. And near the play’s end, they strip down to their black slips, stockings and camisoles, light a cigarette and instruct the audience in a tousled, just-had-an-orgasm purr: “That is how it’s done.” And in a way, you kind of wish it were true. (Nina Metz)
T.U.T.A.’s production of “Rules for Good Manners in the Modern World” plays at HYPERLINK “http://www.propthtr.org/”Prop Theatre, 3520 N. Elston, (847)217-0691, through November 28.