Getting the laugh often means being exact. Take Tonya Beckman, playing a high-fashion man trap named Lisette in the comedy “Fickle” (subtitled “A Fancy French Farce”). When the courtly, sexy Lisette is instructed to seduce the bumpkin Harlequin by being irresistible while not looking like she’s trying, Beckman comes up with a perfectly bizarre little dance move that hysterically follows the instructions to the letter.
That’s how the smooth, consistently amusing “Fickle” runs: Director Eleanor Holdridge appears to lightly nudge it from the top of a hill and watch it race down perfectly laid tracks for 80 minutes. “Fickle” is a new adaptation by Meg Miroshnik of “The Double Inconstancy,” a 1723 comedy by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, and the show (in the Olney Theatre Center’s cozy lab space) has the lovely, updated classical feel that has marked such recent Shakespeare Theatre Company’s romps as “The Metromaniacs.” The set and costumes say 18th century, while the jokes so freely hop through time that you’ll hear the word “hashtag” in a punchline.
The Marivaux plot uses archetypal characters from Italian commedia, but the appealing thing about Marivaux is the surprisingly sincere feeling he often generates as the romantic plot twists. (See “The Triumph of Love.”) The synopsis sounds revolting: A prince has abducted a common woman named Silvia because he’s smitten. But — here’s a paradox — he does not want to force her.
In Miroshnik’s hands, the prince is a sweet, slightly airheaded Method actor wannabe, which is pretty riotous in Christopher Dinolfo’s sunny performance. (The prince’s idol appears to be Robert De Niro: “You talkin’ to me?”) This “acting” angle plays perfectly into the runaway role-play of Marivaux’s plot. The Prince has been “in character,” as he puts it, feigning the part of a commoner when he’s with Silvia.
Silvia naturally hates the prince for tearing her from Harlequin, her true love. But she sort of likes this cheerful, handsome commoner who has been hanging around and letting her exercise a latent bossy side, an aspect played with relish by Kathryn Tkel.
Meanwhile, Harlequin has come to the court looking for Silvia but gets distracted by the Prince’s wily servant Flaminia. (The scheming and double-crossing never gets too intricate, and, besides, there are plenty of asides keeping everything straight.) Again, Holdridge comes up aces with her casting: Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan is a delightfully brainy, focused Flaminia with a knee-knocking weakness for cheese, while Andy Reinhardt’s daffy, grinning (and equally hungry) Harlequin is light as a bubble.
The precisely tuned ensemble — fast talkers, nimble movers — is rounded out by Marcus Kyd as the rules-mongering official Trivelin and Mark Jaster as the doddering, rich Pantaloon character who wants a young wife. Miroshnik neatly weaves in a thread of Marivaux-like melancholy; that’s often key to the charm of Marivaux, a dark, honest note amid the intoxicating romantic confusion.
Charlie Calvert’s inviting set is like a miniature old theater, illuminated with footlight accents by Nancy Schertler, and Helen Q. Huang’s attractive costumes are clownish yet elegant. (When it’s time for Tkel’s increasingly royal Silvia to look good, she looks good.) Almost everything clicks, with the minor exception of pop songs crooned karaoke-style in French. There ought to be a way for such brightly selected tunes as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “All by Myself” to generate a little more fizz. But Holdridge’s witty, confident ensemble pulls off just about everything else in this clever, zippy reboot.
Fickle: A Fancy French Farce, by Meg Miroshnik, based on “The Double Inconstancy” by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux. Directed by Eleanor Holdridge. Sound design, Roc Lee. Through March 26 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney. Tickets: $38-$90. Call 301-924-3400 or visit olneytheatre.org.