The Play’s the Thing Review – A Melodrama with Humor and Heart

Kristin Towers Rowles, Daniel Leslie, and Todd Andrew Ball in THE PLAY'S THE THING - Photo by Eric Keitel
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Originally a 1924 Hungarian play by Ferenc Molnar titled “Play at the Castle,” THE PLAY’S THE THING has seen several iterations – but has always remained a clever and often side-splitting study of manners from nearly 100 years ago.  Adapted into English by P.G. Wodehouse, the play premiered in 1926 in New York with a new title inspired by Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” (Act 2, Scene 2). In fact, this was the first time THE PLAY’S THE THING was produced anywhere in any language. In 1928, the piece debuted in London and became a smash hit. Audiences have laughed long and hard over the years – and now THE PLAY’S THE THING is poised to entertain Theatre 40 audiences.

Jeffrey Winner and Daniel Leslie – Photo by Eric Keitel

Sandor Torai (Daniel Leslie) is a playwright with 30 years’ experience, typically with his life-long collaborator Mansky (Michael Robb). The two men are spending a few weeks at a castle on the Italian Riviera with Torai’s nephew Albert Adam (Eric Keitel), a young man madly in love with and engaged to Ilona Szabo (Kristen Towers Rowles), an actress with a past. It’s the middle of the night, and the three men have just arrived at the castle when they overhear Ilona having a flirtatious and very titillating conversation with her former mentor and lover, another actor named Almady (Todd Andrew Ball). A shocked Albert doesn’t know what to think and sinks into a deep depression. Seeing the younger man’s misery, Torai decides to figure out a way to mend the broken relationship and restore joy to his nephew. Thereby hangs the tale. His creative machinations will soon have the audience chuckling and eagerly anticipating how it will all turn out.

Eric Keitel and Kristin Towers Rowles – Photo courtesy of Eric Keitel

Skillfully directed by Melanie MacQueen, THE PLAY’S THE THING becomes a hilarious study of morality in the 1920’s as the crafty Torai turns reality upside down and inside out in his quest for his nephew’s happiness. The talented cast makes the most of the melodrama with sweeping gestures and side-long glances. Kudos to Jeffrey Winner, who brilliantly tailors a part that could have faded into the woodwork were it not for skilled direction and clever mannerisms and movements.

Daniel Leslie, Eric Keitel, and Michael Robb – Photo courtesy of Eric Keitel

Set designer Jeff Rack is back with his exquisite stage set (which even has a view of the Riviera seen from towering windows). Michele Young’s costumes are lavish and perfect for the elegant 1920s. Derrick McDaniel’s lighting and Nick Foran’s sound enhance the period piece. Overall, this is a fun production which will have the audience chortling as the uproarious plot goes into overdrive. Theatre 40 has returned with a bang.

Milda Dacys and Jeffrey Winner – Photo by Eric Keitel

THE PLAY’S THE THING runs through June 12, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Theatre 40 performs in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Tickets are $35. For information and reservations, call 310-364-0535 or go online.

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