Before Tom Stoppard got all metaphysical and mathematical on us, he wrote fluff. The Stoppardian word gymnastics and clever silliness are very much evident in On the Razzle, but it has about as much substance as a Justin Bieber song. And like the Beatles-coiffed tween idol, you can simply enjoy Razzle for what it is—a passing fancy.
You need stamina to meet the physical and linguistic demands of this farce and Constellation Theatre Company, under the steady direction of Nick Olcott, has a plethora of pep. The largely youthful cast pulls off the slapstick and the puns, as well as the elegant waltzes and dances that populate this Viennese-inspired confection, which of course comes mit schlag.
Mr. Stoppard looked to Viennese playwright Johann Nestroy’s 1843 comedy Einen Jux will er sich machen for the plotline involving two bumpkin grocery clerks who shirk duty and their safe selves for one golden day in the big city. He wasn’t the only one–Thornton Wilder re-imagined Einen Jux for his 1938 play The Merchant of Yonkers and for 1955’s The Matchmaker, which was co-opted in 1964 by Jerry Herman for Hello, Dolly!
That’s a lot of mileage out of something so ephemeral, although you have to concede the enduring charm of ordinary people who take a short holiday from convention and then feast on their memories for years afterward.
Mr. Olcott plumps the fluff factor with a lighter than air production that spins on A. J. Guban’s turntable set. Weinburl (Ashley Ivey) and Christopher (Matthew McGloin) are two assistants at a ritzy grocery store presided over by the pompous, phrase-mangling proprietor Zangler (Michael Glenn). Zangler, played with puffed-up perfection by Mr. Glenn, mystifies anyone in earshot with such malaprops as “Fetch me a half-witted cab, you hansom fool!”
After Zangler struts off to a parade—accompanied by the comical jangling of spurs—Weinburl and Christopher conspire to slip off to Vienna for a spot of fun. Flinging their grocer’s aprons aside, in the course of a day they become everything from landed gentry to Don Juans and even don Scottish drag (Vienna, apparently is in the grips of tartan fever, influencing everything from fashion and food to bagpipe renditions of German songs) in the spirit of adventure.
Zangler also encounters more than he bargained for, since his plans to propose to his fiancee Madame Knorr (Katy Carkuff) at the Imperial Gardens Cafe are bungled because his niece Marie (Jennifer Crooks) is determined to elope with the n’er-do-well Sonders (Joe Brack). While Zangler’s in hot pursuit of his ward and her swain, Madame Knorr and her friend Frau Fischer (Heather Haney) are wined and dined by Weinburl and Christopher, who have every intention of skipping out on the bill. Everyone eventually ends up at the Imperial Gardens, and as you can imagine, hi-jinks ensue.
For the most part, Constellation exhibits the same light and daffy touch with farce it showed with last season’s A Flea in Her Ear. Once again, Mr. McGloin proves a gifted and nimble physical actor who executes double-takes with the aplomb of a vaudeville comedian. His affable good cheer and athleticism makes you think of Donald O’Connor in his prime.
Jim Jorgensen is a somewhat disturbing riot as a buttocks-obsessed coachman who unleashes his equine carnality on French maid Lisette, played to the hilt by Abby Wood as someone increasingly undone by sexual pleasure. Charlotte Akin also has a swell comic moment as Fraulein Blumenblatt, a dowager wistfully clinging to a romantic brief encounter, as do Miss Haney and Miss Carkuff as two opportunistic ladies about town.
“One false move and we’ll have a farce on our hands,” Zangler notes. Luckily, the false moves are few and far between in Constellation’s production and On the Razzle dazzles with comic moves and deft wordplay.
On the Razzle
by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Nick Olcott
Produced by Constellation Theatre Company
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission
Doug Rule . Metro Weekly