Theater review: Stoppard's 'On the Razzle' by Constellation Theatre Company
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 8:16 PM
It takes sterling talent to generate wit from a spoon. So it's notable when, in Constellation Theatre Company's enjoyably frothy rendition of Tom Stoppard's "On the Razzle," Matthew McGloin incorporates the lowly piece of cutlery into a bit of inspired humor.
The actor portrays a grocer's apprentice from provincial Austria who suddenly finds himself in a chic Viennese restaurant - the kind of place where you dine on champagne and lobster thermidor. Hardly believing his luck, the apprentice lifts a spoon from a table with an air that's part elation and part sheer awe: Then he catches sight of himself in the curve of the utensil, and his excited expression sobers as he checks whether he's having a good hair day.
McGloin's quietly hilarious interpretation of the apprentice, Christopher, is one of the pleasures of this production, zestily directed by Nick Olcott (the first artist other than Founding Artistic Director Allison Arkell Stockman to stage a play for four-year-old Constellation).
An adaptation of the 1842 comedy "Einen Jux Will Er Sich Machen" by Viennese dramatist Johann Nestroy, "On the Razzle" is a screwball farce that tells how Christopher and his colleague Weinberl escape for a spree in 1910 Vienna, while their boss participates in an annual grocers parade. First performed in 1981, "On the Razzle" is minor Stoppard, eschewing conceptual high jinks for slapstick, double-entendres and puns. (Nestroy's play also inspired Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker," which in turn served as the source for the musical "Hello, Dolly!") But minor Stoppard is better than no Stoppard, and Olcott's attention to pacing and panache makes the silliness, in general, as toothsome as a Sacher torte.
Contributing to the drollery is Michael Glenn, who plays Christopher's boss, Zangler, a self-important, malaprop-prone merchant (and three-time winner of the Johann Strauss Memorial Shield for duck shooting) whose concerns include thwarting a romance between his ward Marie (Jennifer Crooks) and a youth named Sonders (Joe Brack, doing a delightful turn in a small role). Strutting around in a parade uniform that's far too tight, Glenn's Zangler shifts divertingly between tongue-tied exasperation and cartoonish dignity as misunderstandings complicate his life.
While not quite rivaling the performances of Glenn and McGloin, Ashley Ivey brings a fun professorial fussiness to chief sales assistant Weinberl, whose Vienna jaunt involves him in multiple cases of mistaken identity. Jim Jorgensen supplies uproarious cameos as an inept tailor and a leering coachman, while Heather Haney aces the refinement of the widowed Frau Fischer and a silk-bedecked Katy Carkuff does a pleasantly campy take on a high-end couturier.
A few of the cast members in small roles overindulge in mugging. But there's so much going on in "On the Razzle" that such flaws do minimal damage. With help from a turntable, scenic and lighting designer A. J. Guban zooms from Zangler's tidy shop, with its canister-laden shelves, to the elegant restaurant, to a middle-class walled garden where - in some of the production's most brilliantly orchestrated moments - a Keystone Kops-style chase scene takes place. Designer Kendra Rai provides sumptuous period costumes, including the tartan-trimmed cloaks that fuel one of the play's running gags (the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it seems, has gone mad for Scottish dress).
And then there are the parasols that transform into carriage wheels; the swinging door that's constantly walloping some poor schmuck; the inane valet (an impressively acrobatic Drew Kopas). As Olcott reminds us with a masquerade of masked figures at the start of several scenes, "On the Razzle" unfolds in a carnivalesque reality. Like Christopher and Weinberl's adventure-filled Vienna, it's a place worth visiting.
Wren is a freelance writer.
On the Razzle by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Nick Olcott; sound design, Brendon Vierra; properties, Pamela Weiner; choreography, Amber Jackson. With Charlotte Akin, Charlie Retzlaff, Joseph Thornhill and Abby Wood. About 21/2 hours. Through March 6 at Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW. Call 800-494-8497 (for tickets) or 202-204-7741 (for information) or visit www.ConstellationTheatre.org.