by Lynn on September 18, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts

Written by Morris Panych and Brenda Robins
Based on the play The Battle of Waterloo by Melchior Lengyel
Directed by Morris Panych
Set by Ken MacDonald
Costumes by Dana Osborne
Lighting by Bonnie Beecher
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Video designer, Daniel Malavasi
Cast: Carlos Albornoz
Frank Cox O’Connell
Craig Henry
Michelle Monteith
Nancy Palk
Robert Persichini
Jordan Pettle
Gregory Prest
Brenda Robins
Brigitte Robinson
Paolo Santalucia
Cliff Saunders
David Storch
Jeff Yung
Joseph Zita

An affectionate look at the crazed people who were besotted with making films in Hungary in 1922, no matter how high the odds against success.

The Story
. It’s 1922 in Budapest. Mr. Red, a hotshot Hollywood producer has come there for business. It seems that every out of work actor, director, writer, composer and a producer down on his luck wants to meet Mr. Red to pitch him a story, idea or desire to work for him. Romberg needs Mr. Red’s money to make his dream film of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. By a fluke Romberg finds the money elsewhere, or does he? Mayhem ensues.

The Production. Set designer Ken MacDonald establishes the elegant world of the first half of the play by creating the most exquisite arte deco lobby of a spiffy hotel in Budapest. One might flippantly say it’s really the set of Parfumerie only in turquoise, (MacDonald said as much on Facebook so I feel I can steal his quote. He designed the elegant set of that play—a perfume shop and Panych directed it as well.)

The hotel lobby has curlicues, table stands in the shape of pineapples, along with pineapple-shaped decanters and all manner of other stuff to keep your eyes popping with the attention to detail. And as usual it is full of Ken MacDonald’s wit as a designer. If one sits close it looks as if giant mirrors on either side of the stage reflect each other. Then when characters enter through what looks like a mirror one sees the optical trick and appreciates the illusion. Illusion fills that busy lobby. Most of the characters rushing from place to place are not who they pretend to be. Characters look beautifully natty in Dana Osborne’s fine costumes of double breasted suits for the men and stylish frocks for the women.

The concierge is really Vegh an established director who wants to give her resume to Mr. Red the celebrated American film producer who is staying at the hotel. Milli is an actress who is posing as a waitress in the hotel in order to meet Mr. Red and offer him her services, as an actress of course. Romberg is an anxious film producer who needs backing for his next film on Napoleon’s Battle at Waterloo, and he feels Mr. Red is the man to provide the funding.

Romberg does get funding from a hapless Mr. Brown, a furrier from Buffalo who is mistaken for a producer and he keeps up the charade. Everybody who wants something of Mr. Red now gravitates to Mr. Brown. The second Act is in fact the drab theatre set for the Napoleon movie (I don’t think I can really call it a ‘film.”).

The frantic antics of this silly, funny and often poignant play are established immediately by having the cast of characters enter and exit at a whizzing pace. The bell on the reception desk rings incessantly as bell hops are summoned to haul luggage, or new guests ring for service, as the concierge is trying to find Mr. Red (a wonderfully exuberant Cliff Saunders) to give him her resume. Sometimes a bell hop pulls at a suitcase while the guest who owns the suitcase pulls in the other direction. Often people go flying across the lobby. What we are looking at is a feast of acrobatic staging, quick entrances and exits, each with its own brand of humour and keeping track of it all only adds to the laughs.

Mr. Brown has lost his glasses and so navigates the lobby by banging into chairs, tables, and other people. As played by David Storch, Mr. Brown is a timid soul who can’t be trusted with a cheque book, according to his wife. Storch has a look of mild anxiety and confusion most of the time, except when he’s acting like a producer.

The love of making films is evident in the lovely performance of Jordan Pettle as the awkward, anxious Romberg. He’s so nervous he’s tongue-tied in front of Mr. Red, but in his film world he takes charge. One of the many challenges Romberg has is dealing with Boleslav the temperamental actor playing Napoleon in Romberg’s film. Robert Persichini plays Boleslav with all consuming frustration. It’s hard to tell what irritates him more: the limited variety of snacks on the food tables or being snubbed by Milli, a coy, flirty wispy-voiced Michelle Monteith. The production is a jewellery tray of performances that are gems, full of humour but more important, heart and love of making films at all cost. Morris Panych offers a surprise at the end of the production when we see the results of the filming (kudos to Daniel Malavasi for the video design).

Comment. Writers Morris Panych and Brenda Robins have packed Picture This with silly antics, witty dialogue, a group of characters, each more eccentric than the next and they have made it into a love story involving all these characters who just want to make movies. A charmer.

Produced by Soulpepper

Opened: Sept. 15, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 7, 2017.
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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