A 19th-century farce by Austrian writer Johann Nestroy (Einen Jux will er sich Machen) has sure had a lot of legs.
With a change of venue and the beefing up of a minor character, it provided the plot for Thornton Wilder’s The Merchant of Yonkers and a later version of the same work in play and movie form, renamed The Matchmaker.
Finally, and probably most famously for modern audiences, it inspired Jerry Herman’s musical (and movie based on that) Hello, Dolly.
And in between, famed Czech-born British playwright Tom Stoppard, in 1981, adapted Netroy’s play freely, calling it On the Razzle.
… good direction, a fairly rapid pace that picked up in Act II, and largely well-cast actors.
The basic plot of the play is a chase: What happens when two mischievous grocer’s assistants run off to Vienna on a spree when their master is off himself on a binge before announcing his engagement with the owner of a fashion house.
Meanwhile, the owner of the grocery is taking extreme measures to keep his niece away from a young man he has labeled a “Don Juan,” mostly because the young man—truly in love with the niece—has no money.
Let me say from the outset that this isn’t the Stoppard of Arcadia or The Real Thing or even of Shakespeare in Love, his Academy Award-winning screenplay.
There’s wit in On the Razzle—a term (I didn’t know) in British journalism slang to a celebrity who has drunk, or is about to drink, a lot of liquor. But there’s precious little complexity; the wit takes back seat to malapropisms, stumbling over words, sexual innuendoes and a little naughtiness, and the requisite elements of farce, such as mistaken identities and closets and doors to hide in and behind.
Instead of the philosophical absurdism of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, On the Razzle offers absurd elements, including exaggerated accents and costume changes that don’t really alter anything but somehow are thought to be effective disguises.
It’s also a play that uses repetition, sometimes to good effect and sometimes not. When Roger Stone, as the tongue-twisted proprietor of an Austrian village grocery store, says the same thing (I’ll leave you to listen for that) every time someone manages to get him out of his verbal conundrums, the line gets a little “old”—and it’s not because Stone isn’t good at playing the pompous Herr Zangler.
You have to listen carefully to catch all the misplaced words and references, but the atmosphere of a warm summer day may not be conducive to that.
I lost the train of thought a few times during the June 7th performance, despite good direction, a fairly rapid pace that picked up in Act II, and largely well-cast actors. Not to mention an enthusiastic audience.
This is a play that technically has no main actor, since no one really changes. But Zangler dominates and sets in motion much of the action. It isn’t easy to be tongue-tied, and Stone makes the impediment roll trippingly off the tongue.
His dogged determination to keep his niece from her suitor turns into palpable delight when it turns out that suitor is anything but impoverished.
Michael Abendshein and Sarah Pfanz as the enterprising grocer’s assistants Weinberl and Christopher are having a great time and make us laugh individually, but also have the yin and yang of an Abbot and Costello.
Jacy D’Aiutolo plays several roles, most memorably as waiters whose accents morph from French to Spanish to Italian.
Stuart Fischer is fun to watch as the officious and sometimes efficient personal servant Zangler hires as he sees his fortunes rising through marriage.
Leta Hall has the requisite sophistication as Madame Knorr, the house of fashion owner. It’s delightful to watch her expecting a glass of wine at play’s end.
As Frau Fischer, Lorrie Smith Saito has less to do, but is believable in the charade she agrees to play with Weinberl.
Virginia Swanson does justice to Fraulein Blumenblatt, stock character of an older woman who’s supposed to guard morality but has no clue what’s happening.
Micaela Mannix runs around, hides, and kisses a lot as Marie, Zangler’s niece, but is given almost nothing to say.
On the other hand, Christopher Crockett gives an understated and endearing performance as her frustrated (on all levels) suitor, Sonders.
Some of the sexual naughtiness comes from the woman-obsessed coachman played by Ken Kemp, and Elizabeth Grace Colandene as Lisette, the French maid.
Director Erin Bone Steele uses the physical attributes of her actors (and a little gender-bending) to good effect. The nice-looking but not-too-tall Stone projects a Napoleonic self-importance that would be less humorous in a taller man. The large Abendshein contrasts beautifully with the petite Sarah Pfanz, who one can easily imagine playing one of Shakespeare’s young women disguising as a man.
Christopher Crockett’s tallness heightens both his determination to win Marie and his uncertainty how to go about it. It also makes it harder for him to hide.
I’ve seen several shows at Silver Spring Stage, and have to admit this set is probably the most attractive and elegant but also challenging. There were a lot of pieces to move in and out as the stage was transformed from a grocery, to a café, to a fancy restaurant, to a rich woman’s apartment, and back.
Andrew Greenleaf, set designer and master carpenter, deserves special praise.
So does costume designer Sandy Eggleston, who was responsible for the period outfits and a few uniforms.
Alika Codispoti is stage manager. Don Slater is lighting designer.
In addition to their acting talents, the cast, as noted in the program, did their hair and makeup.
Running Time: 2 hours long, with one 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Lots of double entendres, no vulgar language. Light-hearted sexual situations.
On the Razzle runs through June 20, 2015 at Silver Spring Stage is at Woodmoor Shopping Center, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD 20901. For tickets and information, call (301) 593-6036 or click here.