After presenting it in 1999 and again in 2003, Soulpepper returns to Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár’s 1926 comedy, showing that this play is, well, totally their thing.
With director László Marton at the helm once again and Diego Matamoros playing the infinitely clever lead, Sandor Turai, for the third time, this is much more than a well-polished piece that the cast and crew know inside out. A show about theatre that seems as fun to perform as it is to watch, it nicely reflects the soul of Soulpepper, and is now a signature work.
It’s easy to see why they love it so much. It’s witty high comedy that playfully explores both the limits and power of theatre, with deep questions examined thoughtfully but never too seriously. Right from the start, Molnár’s characters, a group of well-to-do writers and performers, jokingly question the fourth wall but leave it decidedly intact, setting up a thread of intelligent meta-theatre that appears throughout the show.
The plot centres on Turai, one-half of a very successful playwriting duo. He arrives at an opulent Italian countryside hotel hoping to delight his prima donna with a surprise visit from her young fiancé. When things quickly spiral out of control, Turai emerges as a master manipulator, turning to his skill at penning plays to try and set things right.
References to Shakespeare are peppered throughout, with the title itself taken from Hamlet’s famous decision to use theatre to reveal his uncle’s crime. But here Molnár has Turai comically doing the opposite, cobbling together a show that will hopefully conceal a potentially destabilizing indiscretion. The script is packed with sharp dialogue, hilarious misunderstandings and delectably intriguing frames of reference, which Marton and the strong cast nail at every turn.
While Matamoros is in fine form as the centre of the action, C. David Johnson gets lots of laughs reprising his role as Almady, the vain leading man who bristles at being Turai’s puppet. Particularly funny is the scene where he struggles to deliver passages intentionally packed with absurdly long French names, to the secret delight of Turai. Oliver Dennis also steals a few scenes as the borderline-sarcastic, android-like servant Dwornitschek.
laughter in the final act that much more joyous. Johnson is particularly funny as the petticoat-chasing Almady because you feel for him as he is undone (and forgiven); and Gregory Prest makes a neurotic stage manager named Mel as hilarious as possible without ever stealing the show. This is ensemble work that reminds why Soulpepper first caught on.
J. Kelly Nestruck