Picture This (Soulpepper Theatre Company)
The action opens on the lobby of an elegant hotel in Budapest, where seemingly a legion of staffers are there to cater to the guests’ whims. But it soon becomes clear most, if not all of them, are there for another reason. The shifty concierge Vegh (Nancy Palk) is a local film director; the inattentive waitress Milli (Michelle Monteith) is an actress; the bellhop Jimmy (Paolo Santalucia) is a composer. They’ve all contrived to be there for a chance to meet the guest in the penthouse, powerful film producer Red (Cliff Saunders), who could whisk them away to Hollywood.
Down-on-his-luck producer Romberg (Jordan Pettle) is there for Red, too, but he’s hoping for a investment in his local studio World Films; an investment in an upcoming film—any upcoming film—could help him stave off his many creditors. So when a chance meeting between nebbish tourist Mr. Brown (David Storch) and Red seems to indicate Brown is also a film financier, Romberg and Milli set their sights on the smaller fish, beguiling him with a pitch about the surefire success of a historical epic about Napoleon, which could be made in Hungary for a fraction of an American film’s budget.
It’s clear what Soulpepper was hoping for here; a similar follow-up to their wildly successful perennial holiday romantic comedy Parfumerie from the same writing and adapting team of actor Brenda Robbins (who plays a crusty costume designer) and director Morris Panych. But where the adaptation of Parfumerie seemed quaint, Picture This‘s more dated references and behaviour, such as pompous star Boleslav (Robert Persichini’s) grasping advances towards his co-star Milli in the second act, are disquieting. And some of Soulpepper’s very fine repertory company are playing against type here; Montieth’s Milli, for instance, is quietly alluring, when a number of exchanges in the first act strongly suggest Milli possesses a brazen and brassy demeanour.
Some of the slapstick beats in the first act work quite well, but the audience was oddly quiet for a comedy, even for the mid-week matinee we attended; the comedic through-line of the desperate film players just didn’t stick. And the second act relies too heavily on Perschini’s Boleslav for comedic relief, when he seems more threatening then risible (though there is a scene-stealing turn by Gregory Prest as a similarly preening but much lower-status actor). It also seemed like there were scenes missing between Milli and Romberg that might have sustained the romantic absurdity of the whole (film) business. There’s an underlying message about the unbridled optimism of these dreamer-schemers, who keep hoping for that one big break that will transform their lives, and how that hope is commendable and deserving of reward. We hope that the next comedy Soulpepper produces really earns high commendations.
To October 7, Young Centre For the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane), various times, $25-$95.