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The Play's the Thing 

The Play's the Thing, Borealis Theatre Company, at Theatre Building Chicago. A tribute to art's ability to improve on life, Ferenc Molnar's charming, wise 1926 comedy puts the "play" in--well, the play. P.G. Wodehouse's adaptation adds wry wit to Molnar's comic machinery.

While mocking the conventions of the well-made play, Molnar transforms despair into forgiveness. Promising young composer Albert, visiting two older playwright collaborators, overhears his fiancee, Ilona, in a compromising conversation with a former suitor, ham actor Almady. Once Albert's hope for love is destroyed, his creativity is the next casualty. Sandor, the more psychologically astute of Albert's collaborators, hopes to rescue his cash cow by restoring the lad's innocence, writing a false play that echoes the real-life dialogue Albert overheard. Sandor then forces the guilty parties to re-create their tryst as part of a "rehearsal." Voila! An artful lie remedies a poisonous truth.

This is delicate, quicksilver stuff--the audience must never get ahead of the plot. Sadly, that happens often in Jeffrey Baumgartner's jerky, sometimes plodding staging, which reaches the right comic speed only in the laugh-rich third act. Baumgartner is confident as Sandor; Lacy Coil delivers a period-perfect Ilona, her impetuous youth seemingly the excuse for her whimsical infidelity; and Glenn W. Proud is all ardent ignorance as the duped Albert.

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