The Play’s the Thing at the Segal Centre until Nov. 20 is a delightful revival of Ferenc Molnar’s 1920’s period piece, Play at The Castle, (Jatek a Kastelyban), a silly farce adapted by P.G. Wodehouse in which sexual hi-jinks inspire a word play-within- a-play. Set in a Mediterranean villa, the parlour comedy is based on a real life incident in which the Hungarian playwright arrived in his hotel suite with one of his friends and overheard his wife in the next room, apparently in the throes of passion, exclaiming, “I love you, I love you, I shall die of love for you!”
In fact, she was practicing her diction.
The entire comic premise of this play hangs on a double entendre. It’s a slight idea to fill three hours, but as directed by Blair Williams the silliness is infectious. It just gets better and better as each act moves along. The first act is all exposition. We learn that a dramatist, Sandor Turai, (Paul Hopkins) and his collaborator, Mansky (James Kidnie) along with their young musical director, Albert Adam, (Chris Barillaro) have been engaged by the villa’s manager, Mel, (Jonathan Patterson) to stage a show. As the men assemble in the drawing room to discuss the art of play creation they inadvertently overhear an embarrasing conversation through the mansion’s paper thin walls. Their leading lady, Ilona (Jessica B. Hill) - who just happens to be Adam’s fiancée - is enjoying a tryst with a much older ham actor, Almady (Michael Rudder). In order to curb Adam’s suicidal thoughts, Sandor comes up with a plan to write an impromptu script, with a nod to the French playwright, Sardou, that incorporates the dialogue they have just overheard. Adam is led to believe that what he actually overheard was nothing more than two actors rehearsing their roles. The notion that the two lovers were really talking about the delights of eating a peach, and not having sex gives the show its kick. The result is smooth, smart and funny especially in the third act when the lovers are thrown into a rehearsal. The dialogue they have been forced to deliver with toungues uncomfortably in cheek, puts a somewhat different spin on their real conversation. Michael Rudder happily is back where he belongs on stage after an absence, all bluster and bombast, as the aging lothario, Almady. Rudder alone is worth the price of admission. Jessica C. Hill flutters nicely as the alluring if slightly dizzy ingénue, and the only woman in the show. Chip Chuipka is perfect as the world weary butler. As a model of constipated discretion, he steals every scene he’s in. Paul Hopkins is a dashing and debonair Turai; Chris Barillaro wears his wounded heart on his sleeve nicely, and James Kidnie puts a crisp aristocratic touch to his role. Jonathan Patterson rounds out the cast with authority. Peter Hartwell’s stage design is a throwback to the movies of the silver screen – a chic black- white- and- grey art-deco salon with a Mediterranean view. The cast all sport black-and-white formal wear, and the illusion of being at the movies is perfectly enhanced by Kirsten Watt’s lighting.