The notion of reality has been questioned by everyone, through nearly every medium in history. From Descartes’ musings back when he was kicking it in the 17th century, to the more contemporary example of reality television (was that line scripted or was it alcohol-fuelled spontaneity?), questioning our surroundings is the gift that keeps on giving.
Throw in questions and quivers about love and trust, and you have a whole different creature. Namely, you have The Play’s the Thing, a play that’s as much of a theatrical mind trip as you will get on the stage.
Penned by Ferenc MolnÃ¡r, the play tells the story of Albert Adam, a talented composer whose playwright friends take him to an Italian castle. Once there, the young composer is distraught when he hears his fiancÃ©e having sex with another man. Not to be set back by an emotional wreck of a collaborator, the playwrights convince Adam that what he heard is a scene from a play being rehearsed. And thus, the play-within-a-play â€“ and general madness â€“ ensues.
It’s a situation driven by what director Blair Williams says motivates most characters â€“ self-interest, of course.
“I certainly think MolnÃ¡r believes that self-interest is inherent, but at the same time, when we examine our self-interest we can extract ourselves from it a little bit. I think that’s what he’s asking us to do as well,” he said. “It’s romance through comedy and he has us laugh at that, which is very important.”
The scenario being recounted is not only compelling by itself, but by its relatable quality as well. It’s astounding to contemplate that a situation deemed scandalous and provoking 80 something years ago does not seem dated at all in modern times.
“It certainly is applicable now, absolutely, when we’re still dealing with questions of fidelity and questions of loyalty, questions of trust,” said Williams. “These are human conditions that will exist forever. As long as there is romance, there will be broken hearts.”
The play is unconventional in that it not only explores different realms on the stage, but off the stage as well, by breaking the infamous fourth wall. This is something MolnÃ¡r sets up in the script.
“I enjoy the metaphysics of his writing and in this play he explores the nature of the theatre itself and the relationship between the actor and the audience, and the playwright and the audience,” said Williams.
“I had Paul Hopkins, who plays playwright Sandor Turai, really explore the connection with the audience,” he added. “I encouraged him to make eye contact with people in the audience and really explore that dynamic.”
Audiences will also feel an added level of connection through the actors’ voices. Williams noted that, diverging from other renditions of this play, this production sees the actors forgoing the British accents and keeping their own.
The stage set-up, which Williams describes as an “old-fashioned theatrical set that makes no attempt to look like a real room,” contributes to the atmosphere they were trying to create as well.
“We set the play fairly in the ’20s, so it’s a very art deco feel that is silver screen influenced. Everything we did in the room is black and white and shades of grey, including the costumes and the furniture and the walls, and everything. Outside, the backdrop is colour,” he shared. “It just provides an interesting dynamic.”
Albeit the play is serious in its message (Williams pinned it down to being that “we believe what we want to believe, and we should examine our truths carefully”), at the end of the day the show is a comedy, and that’s what Williams hopes audiences walk away with.
“Most importantly, that they have a laugh. It is a very funny play. Laughter is the best way to learn anything.”
The Play’s the Thing runs until Nov. 20 at the Segal Centre (5170 CÃ´te-Ste-Catherine). Student tickets are $22. For more information, visit www.segalcentre.org.