Broadcast text reviews of THE PLAY’S THE THING and HAPPY PLACE

by Lynn on September 14, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, September 11, 2015. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm, The Play’s the Thing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until October 14 and Happy Place at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until October 17, 2015.

The host was Phil Taylor.

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Theatre never stops, not even for the Toronto International Film Festival, so what do you have for us this week?

I have two from Soulpepper that couldn’t be more different.

First, a remount of the comedy The Play’s the Thing by Ferenc Molnár, a slight piece of comedic confection, Hungarian style.

And then the world premier of Happy Place, a sobering drama, by Pamela Mala Sinha, about how seven women cope and deal with trauma in their lives.

Let’s start with The Play’s the Thing.

It was written in 1926 by Hungarian playwright, Ferenc Molnár. Three men of the theatre have come to a swank resort. They are: Sandor Turai, a very successful playwright with the ego to prove it, Mansky, his writing partner, and Albert Adam their young protégé. Albert Adam has written the music for Turai and Mansky’s latest play.

It will star the talented and glamorous Ilona Szabo who is engaged to Albert. He’s besotted with her. What Albert doesn’t know is that Ilona is in the room next to this one. Turai is also a master booker of rooms and booked the room next to Ilona to surprise both her and Adam.

But, they get a surprise they don’t count on. The three men over-hear Ilona in the next room having a romantic assignation with Mr. Almady, a pompous actor, huge ego, with a wife and kids at home. Albert is heartsick. Mansky is shocked. Turai goes into overdrive to solve this messy situation.

Without going into too much detail, Turai conjures a coup de theatre that is complicated, funny and slick.

You say it’s been remounted by Soulpepper.

Soulpepper has produced The Play’s The Thing three times over the past 15 years.

So it must be popular.

Sure, it’s a comedy—audiences always love those but after seeing it three times with a few cast changes, I think it’s time to say ‘enough.’ It’s a slight play that goes a long way to try and appear funny, witty and sophisticated. There are a lot of plays out there that can do the same things and better.

Sandor Turai solves the problem of this overheard tryst between Ilona Zsabo and Mr. Almady, but it seems to take forever. And while Diego Matamoros plays Sandor Turai as he did all three times, with sophistication and easy wit, it’s the frustrated, exasperated performance of C. David Johnson as Almady that is the real star.

Poor Almady has to speak a lot tongue twisting French names that has the audience corpsing. C. David Johnson is also playing the role for the third time and he is red-faced, beautifully pompous and an endearing fool. It’s a lovely performance.

How about the rest of the production?

I found some of the acting problematic and blame the director, László Marton. Raquel Duffy is a good actress but as Ilona she is hardly alluring. She is not dressed as a glamorous leading lady but as a dowdy matron. Now that can’t be right. Why then would Albert Adam be besotted with her?

As Albert, Gordon Hecht is directed to play him as such a whining child that you wonder what she sees in him and what he sees in her other than something Oedipal.

I hope Soulpepper does not give in to temptation and plan a third revival. Always leave your audience wanting more and don’t give it to them.

And tell us about Happy Place.

It’s written by Pamela Mala Sinha who also acts in the production. Sinha’s first play was Crash, an autobiographical piece about a horrific event in her life.

With Happy Place Sinha carries on with the sobering theme of how people cope with their own haunting demons. The title is ironic at times and apt too.

We are in an in-patient mental facility. There are seven women—six are patients and the last one, Louise is a therapist in the facility.

These patients are being kept there for their own good and safety and for that of their families.

Some have been raped and can’t remember the details but are haunted with it. Some have unwittingly put their children in harm’s way and are suffering from that. One is mentally fragile from a botched operation. In other cases it’s a mystery what the problem is. In many of these cases the women attempted suicide.

Louise is not representative of a medical profession that can’t cure the problems. That’s not what Pamela Mala Sinha is trying to say here. Of course you must have a medical person on site to provide the stability of the place and the system.

What I think Sinha is trying to say is that these women, with their prickly oddnesses are supporting, caring challenging and calling out the others. That too is a kind of reasonable therapy. These are tough, funny women. Humour heals too. They each have a secret place that is their Happy Place, in which they feel at peace, safe and comforted.

Is the play depressing?

Certainly the individual stories are challenging as to what these women are hiding, but I think we all know people like these. Rather than looking away Sinha, with her poetic yet gritty writing, compels us to look at these women and consider, how would I act if I endured what they have?

I also like that not every story is neatly concluded with a lovely bow. Some stories are not resolved. That’s fine.

The production under Alan Dilworth’s sensitive, strong directing serves the play beautifully, as he did when he directed Crash.

Some characters can’t get out of their pyjamas –Sinha plays Kathleen who spends the whole play in slippers a nightgown and a dressing gown. She has a heart-squeezing secret. Sinha as Kathleen is both ground-down and strong-willed.

Mildred is the woman trying to cope with the terrible effects of a botched operation. Diane D’Aquila plays her and while Mildred is vulgar, boisterous, and very funny, D’Aquila’s first entrance is startling—she walks like a person not connected to life—a zombie? But then you see that life rages through her.

Irene Poole plays Rosemary whose family and life are unravelling. It’s not that her partner has left her that has brought her to this place, it’s that she might also loose her step-son in the process. She has grown to love the boy fiercely, and he returns the affection. Poole gives a fierce, wounded performance.

They are treated by a matter of fact but caring woman named Louise, well played by Deborah Drakeford, but it is the familiarity of the others who guide them through.

It’s a strong cast of women, telling a difficult story with heart, firmness and conviction.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at twitter @slotkinletter

The Play’s the Thing plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until October 14, 2015.

Happy Place plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until Oct. 17.

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