Sunday, June 20, 2004

Play: Summer Trifle

The Play's The Thing By Ferenc Molnar, Adapted by P. G. Wodehouse, Directed by John Michael Higgins, INTIMAN Theatre though 11 July.

You get into habits - Kate and I do the Seattle Rep, so we are comfortable with Repetory plays, know the drill, know what to expect, and know the placing and where everything is. Now, about twenty feet from the Rep's theatres (The Bagley/Wright and the Leo K.) is the Intiman, which has a different, though equally solid reputation. The Intiman is smaller and more intimate, and tends to have plays that are a little more biting than those that fill the house for the Seattle Repetory. Homebody/Kabul and 21 Dog Years were Intiman plays, Over the Moon more Reppish. So this opulent Wodehouse adaptation of a Hungarian play was a bit of a surprise - more mainstream, but still a delight on a hot Saturday afternoon.

Even the set design, usually minimal in the Intiman plays, was ornate and deep. No framework doors and black abyssal backdrops here, but rather a rich suite at a Italian Castle, tastefully rendered. The small cast of seven dress to the nines, and evoke the Belle Epoch of the time before the world wars (will we view the 90s in similar fashion?). And as dressy as the stage and costume are, the plot is simple. The young lovers are split apart by the intentions of an aging Lothario and it is up to the optimistic half of a pair of playwrites to rescue the relationship (and in doing so the play they all are working on). The optimist comes up with a plan, executes it, and solves the problems. Very, very straightline.

And over this, the actors run riot in their parts. David Cromwell, as the optimistic playwrite Sandor Turai, delivers with David Nivenesque aplomb. Mark Capri as the aged Lothario is suprisingly delightful as the rogue made to pay a public price for his indiscretion. The young lovers, Quinlan Corbett and Heather Guiles, were solid in their parts, but upstaged by the fussy secretary (Larry Paulsen), the laconic butler (Clayton Corzatte) and the playwrite's pessimistic writing partner (Laurence Ballard). Ballard is a Seattle tradition in my playgoing career, having been in two productions a year for as long as I've been out here, and brings his usual zest and excitement to a role that encourages his strengths.

So it is a small play - a problem is discovered and solved, the Wodehousean requirement of making one of the players look very foolish in the process (in this case, Capri, who does a beautiful turn as an actor forced to recite horrible, tongue-mangling lines as pennance for his crime). My only gripe is one that I see in a lot of theater - the writer is a genius. Not the writer of the play, but the character of the writer in the play. Inevitably said writer comes up with the solution, manipulates the other characters, drives the plot, and wraps everything up. And of course, gets the last word. Mind you, I have no strong objection to writers being presented as brilliant, witty, perfectly mannered and sexy beyond belief, but I have encountered enough of them now that I can see them coming a mile off. I need a writerish villain, a literary thug, a dullard of letters, once or twice a decade to balance me out, but that may be nature of modern theater (I also marvel that there are no horror plays of recent vintage, but that's another rant).

In any event, The Play's The Thing a pleasant diversion, light as a buttermilk biscuit and as sunny as the area around the Seattle Center fountain (and is truth in advertising in its title). The dialog zings, the plot hums along, and the inside theater jokes appeal. Its a pleasant afternoon.

More later,