Silence can be unnerving. The Play's the Thing, Theatre Junction's latest production, opens with three men sitting and smoking cigarettes in the dark. Only the burning embers of each cigarette are visible. The moment lasts for what seems an eternity, so unsettling to the audience, a low murmur arises. Finally, the lights come up and the dialogue begins as if nothing had happened. It's an auspicious start that focuses the audience's attention. Unfortunately, the ensuing action, while entertaining, doesn't live up to the initial hook.
The Play's the Thing, the title taken from a classic line in Hamlet, is a farcical play within a play. When poor Albert Adam (Frank Zotter) overhears a heated conversation between the love of his life and another man, his uncle Turai (Stephen Hair) sets out to save the relationship by convincing Albert that the exposed pair were innocently rehearsing for play. Turai, a playwright by trade, composes a new work, integrating the overheard dialogue, and passes it off as an old French farce.
Director Mark Lawes effectively uses a simple set, highlighting the action with funky scene changes like the opening sequence. At one point, a beautiful sunrise fills the stage, pleasantly surprising the audience.
Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar's script, adapted by P.G. Wodehouse, also carries the action. The dialogue is witty and fun, making the story enjoyable.
The problem, particularly in the first act, is that the staging upstages the actors. Hair delivers a strong performance as Turai, and Wes Tritter is delightful as Turai's professional partner Mansky. The two provide punchy, comic banter like an old married couple. However, the supporting cast is flat and tends to over-dramatize the dialogue, making their characters unsympathetic.
The second act is stronger than the first, especially when the play-within-the-play goes up; the melodramatic farce is hilarious at times. Chester Lorincz, the "other" man, hits his stride as the French lover. He adeptly spouts off tongue-tying, extended French titles to great comic effect. There's also a side-splitting sequence involving a peach. However, the contrast between the farce and the surrounding outer-play is fuzzy, and the actors retain too much melodrama when a more realistic tone is needed.
The Play's the Thing provides a pleasant evening, but doesn't live up to the script's full potential. While the staging is strong and there are some great moments, the production is rather uneven overall.
The Play's the Thing runs until April 22 at the Dr. Betty Mitchell Theatre in the Jubilee Auditorium.