Ah, P.G. Wodehouse. I fell in love with his British humor around the same time I discovered Monty Python’s Flying Circus on PBS, and read much of his prolific output. At one p., I read so much Wodehouse that I started peppering my writing with surprising twists, random abbreviations and wordplay (“I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled” – The Code of the Woosters).
Wodehouse is mostly known for his dozens of novels about Brits of a certain social order, especially those featuring the butler Jeeves and his employer Bertie of the aforementioned Woosters. He also wrote many successful musicals and a few plays—including one named after a line from Hamlet, The Play’s the Thing, now onstage at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills.
The Play’s the Thing is from 1926 and adapted from a 1924 Hungarian play by Ferenc Molnár. So yes, it’s dated, but also charming. It features a sticky romantic situation, a wild solution and plenty of bon mots. The protagonist is a successful librettist, Sandor (Daniel Leslie), the romantic partners his nephew and composer Albert (Eric Keitel) and his prima donna fiancée Ilona (Kristin Towers Rowles).The men, accompanied by their collaborator Mansky (Michael Robb), arrive late at night at a castle on the Italian Riviera and gather in Sandor’s room. Ilona returns from an outing to her room next door; through the surprisingly thin castle walls Albert and the others hear her in conversation with the married Almady (Todd Andrew Ball). Almady is making a move and Ilona’s response seems, to her fiancé, insufficiently brusque. A broken engagement could be on the horizon.
But wait! Sandor, like P.G. himself, is a prolific writer of dialogue and he has an idea that might save the nuptials. With the support of two servants, Johann (Jeffrey Winner) and Miss Mell (Milda Dacys), he sets out to keep the couple together.
While the scenario is somewhat overdrawn, with the repetition of several jokes, the implementation of Sandor’s plan in Act III is most satisfying.
Set designer Jeff G. Rack has created a sumptuous, castle-like set, complete with a view of the Ligurian Sea. Director Melanie MacQueen guides the actors to inhabit their century-old characters with aplomb. Leslie plays the powerful Sandor with appropriate bombast and confidence. Winner steals scenes with a characterization reminiscent of Marty Feldman playing Igor in Young Frankenstein. All in all, The Play’s the Thing is an enjoyable Wodehousian romp, an amusing and welcome break from our 21st century reality.
The Play’s the Thing runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:00pm through June 12 at Theatre 40 on the Beverly Hills High School campus, 241 S. Moreno Dr. Tickets are $35 and are available here. Theatre 40 has just announced the lineup for its 56th season; get information and subscribe here.