Tom Stoppard's "On the Razzle" does to farce what Walt Disney did to the amusement park. After you've seen the bewitching production at the Arena Stage, you might never again settle for plain old Moliere.
The show offers no meat -- just a heaping helping of mind-candy. And like the kid at the candy store, you'll be sad when the supply runs out.
Based on a 19th-century Austrian fillip -- Johann Nepomuk Nestroy's "Einen Jux will er sich machen" ("He's Out for a Fling") -- the play treats an assistant grocer and his helper's wild day on the town. Left alone by the proprietor in a smalltown emporium, they slip away to Vienna for an adventure to remember.
Thornton Wilder used the same farce as a takeoff for his 1954 play "The Matchmaker," from which the 1963 musical "Hello, Dolly!" was launched. That's surely a well- trod path, but Stoppard has made of Nestroy's tale his own dazzling jaunt.
He freely pared the plot to give it some 20th-century punch, and lightened the banter with crazy puns, aimed at both ear and eye. "I love your niece, sir," cries the young suitor, Sonders, as he falls at the store owner's feet. "My knees, sir?" Zangler, the store owner, huffs, struggling from Sonders' grasp. There are also flashes of ribaldry -- too hot for Nestroy to have handled.
Arena's resident acting company -- from Mark Hammer as the preposterously pompous Zangler, to boyish Christina Moore donning trousers to play the grocer's apprentice, to Deborah Offner as a randy French maid -- does a first-rate job, and look to be having themselves a bangup time. But Tony Straiges' sets are just as beguiling -- making the show much like a visit to Disneyland.
In Straiges' slapstick vision, inanimate objects come to life, with mannequins, tables or hedges capable at any moment of springing into action. One bit of sleight-of- stage, involving Charles Janasz as Zangler's servant and a partition in a restaurant, is as amazing as amusing. The only problem is that Straiges' constructions are so ambitious, they sometimes detract from the play. Depending on where you sit, some rococo sculpture atop a platform might block the comic doings on the balcony behind. ON THE RAZZLE -- At Arena Stage through November 21.