Being unfamiliar with the works of P.G. Wodehouse and the current ProArts production, "The Play's the Thing," I was unsure what to expect on Valentine's Day.
Early in, I recognized Wodehouse's influence in collaboration with Cole Porter on "Anything Goes" and "The Play's the Thing" is a de-lovely piece of theater. Be forewarned the style is a little dated (published in 1930); however, a script is only as dated as the actors who play it. This seasoned cast ably handles the style and grace of the era.
Dale Button, in the lead as Turai, gives an impeccably suave performance, and partner, Vinnie Linares as Mansky, is perfectly cast as his frantic sidekick. Wodehouse's script is extremely clever, especially revealing that Turai and Mansky are more than just business partners - in a 1920s subtle fashion. The third banana, Albert Adam played by Dylan Bode, is an additional protagonist. The audience, like he, is a bit clueless and needs to be informed of the situation at hand. Though a smaller part, Bode offers the perfect interpretation of a classic juvenile lead role.
Wodehouse obliterates the fourth wall as well as exposition as Turai speaks directly to the audience in a comical manner to move the play along quickly. Director Jonathan Lehman refreshingly embraces a traditional three-act format, making it a slightly longer night out, but respecting the script with two intermissions. Turai and Mansky, along with their young composer protege, Albert, have made a surprise visit to an Italian castle. With their latest script in hand, the trio intends to present it to its star and diva, Ilona Szabo (Jennifer Rose). A farcical atmosphere ensues when compromising sexual conversation is overheard between Ilona and her former lover, Almady. Albert, Ilona's fiance, is now ready to tear up his music, requiring quick thinking by Turai to mend the situation and save the operetta.
After all the who-heard-and-said-what-to-whom dialogue subsides, "The Play's the Thing" hits its crescendo in the third act. Scott Newman as Almady gives his finest performance to date in re-enacting Turai's absurd play within the play. His delivery of insanely difficult names such as "Madame La Countess du Veyrier de Ia Grande Contumace Saint Emilion," and lines like, "My two castles in Challenges-Debicourt de la Romanee and at Rivalieux-Quandamouzieres Sur Vantera-aux Alpes Maritimes," was not only superb, but also delivered the biggest laughs of the night.
The always brilliant Jennifer Rose shines again as Ilona, the diva, particularly when playing melodramatic within the play within the play. John Peterson, as the frustrated secretary of the estate, also gives a wonderful performance in a smaller role, utilizing reaction and facial expression extremely well through lengthy periods of silence. Lee Garrow as Dwornitscheck, is in many ways the third protagonist of the play, inducing sympathy as the butler that never sleeps. Wodehouse bookends his farce through Dwornitscheck, and again, although a smaller part, Garrow evokes the classic theater cliche; there are no small parts, only small actors.
* ProArts Playhouse presents "The Play's the Thing" by Ferenc Molnar, adapted by P.G. Wodehouse and directed by Jonathan Lehman. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through March 2 at the playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $22, with kamaaina discounts available for Hawaii residents tonight and Feb. 27. For details, call 463-6550.