The inimitable P. G Wodehouse adapted Ferenc Molnar’s The Play’s the Thing for English speakers and the result is a very funny play. Soulpepper is reprising its production directed by László Marton and the result is, as far as the audience is concerned, a not very funny play.
The Play has a terrific plot. Playwrights Sandor Turai (Diego Matamoros) and Mansky (William Webster) have written an operetta to the music of the young Albert Adam (Gordon Hecht). Albert is madly in love with Ilona (Raquel Duffy), the star of the operetta. He overhears her making love to Almady (C. David Johnson), an aging actor, and is so heart-broken, he threatens to tear up the music for the operetta.
Gordon Hecht, Diego Matamoros, Raquel Duffy & C. David Johnson. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
How can the crafty Turai convince Adam that Ilona and Almady were simply rehearsing a play and not doing …what they were doing. The solution is simple: write a play for the two lovers to rehearse, be overheard by Adam and convince Adam that Ilona is faithful.
The play has some very funny lines to go with the delightful ruse that Turai is concocting. Matamoros’s Turai is arrogant, insulting, clever and inventive. Johnson as the married and aging Don Juan caught in a situation where his wife may get a telegram revealing his escapade, is simply hilarious.
Raquel Duffy is attractive and entertaining as the woman in the middle who must convince the composer that when she said to Almady in her hotel room “don’t bite the delicious, round thing” she meant a peach and not a part of her anatomy.
C. David Johnson, Gregory Prest & Raquel Duffy. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
Oliver Dennis has the cameo role of the insouciant waiter who never says what a servile waiter ought to say and turns in a fine performance. Webster as Mansky is Turai’s sidekick and he is the recipient of the latter’s barbs and putdowns. Gregory Prest has the small role of the supposed manager of everything who manages nothing but he is quite funny in his frustrations and exasperations.
The play is set in a posh castle but the sets by Julie Fox, the original set designer, and Victoria Wallace, the Remount Set Designer, leave most things to the imagination. A few pieces of furniture and a large frame on the wall only hint of luxury. One can only assume that it is a matter of budget and the failure of imagination.
The problem was that the action on the stage did not travel well to the audience. Theatre is a communal thing and it works at its best when the energy, humour and situation created on the stage are transferred to the audience and they follow and react to all that is happening on the stage. The audience in the performance I attended laughed mostly politely. The humour caught on much better in the second half when Johnson was trying to say seven-hyphen French names. For the rest of the performance most of the witty lines and very amusing situations simply did not evoke sufficient laughter. Too bad.
The Play’s the Thing by Ferenc Molnar adapted by P. G. Wodehouse continues until October 17, 2015 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca