Picture This falls apart

PICTURE THIS by Morris Panych and Brenda Robins (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House)..

PICTURE THIS by Morris Panych and Brenda Robins (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). Runs to October 7. $35-$95. 416-866-8666, soulpepper.ca. See listing. Rating: NN

Heres the thing about comedy and drama. When a dramas not working, its not instantly evident. But when a comedy isnt getting laughs, you immediately know somethings amiss.

Even a generous opening night crowd couldnt muster up a lot of enthusiasm for Picture This, Soulpeppers attempt to rejuvenate Hungarian writer Melchior Lengyels obscure play The Battle Of Waterloo.

The adapters, Morris Panych (who also directs) and Brenda Robins (who has a small role), are the same team who breathed fresh new life into Parfumerie. But where that show, remounted every other season by the company during the holidays, offers a lot of heart along with its winsome comedy, this show is cynical, brittle and stilted.

The set-up is promising. Mr. Red (Cliff Saunders), a hotshot Hollywood producer, is staying at a Budapest hotel, and every struggling actor, director, writer and even film composer in the city has weaseled his or her way into the hotel to get his attention.

When Red runs into his childhood friend, the hapless Mr. Brown (David Storch), now an American furrier, all the film wannabes believe Brown is a producer, too. So after Red leaves they convince Brown to finance a historical epic about Napoleon. That film takes up the entire second act.

The production might work with fewer characters (so many appear in the first act its hard to keep track of them) and a livelier pace. Slapstick turns are cute once or even twice, but when they appear repeatedly they lose their charm.

And for most of the play its hard to feel for the characters, who merely seem either scheming and selfish or vain and ridiculous.

Still, there are some nice touches. Michelle Monteiths aspiring starlet pretends to be a cocktail waiter and uses her silver platter to shine a spotlight on her face, while Gregory Prest steals every scene hes in as a mopey thespian with big dreams. Brigitte Robinsons brief turn as Browns domineering wife is memorable, and Saunders is perfection as the egomaniacal movie mogul.

Ken MacDonalds set has a nice old world feel, with lots of room for quick entrances, exits and even shadowy appearances behind glass dividers. Too bad the show taking place on it isnt more watchable.

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