OLYMPIA by Ferenc Molnár, adapted by Michael Healey, directed by Albert Schultz, with Kristin Booth, Stuart Hughes, Nancy Palk, Brenda Robins and Healey. Presented by Soulpepper in association with Harbourfront Centre at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Opens tonight (Thursday, July 21) and runs in rep to September 29. $32.50-$51.50, student $25, rush $18, youth rush $5. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Soulpepper's back to spice up the Toronto theatre scene with a season that includes Ibsen's The Wild Duck, Sam Shepard's Fool For Love, Shakespeare's Hamlet and The Long Valley, an adaptation of Steinbeck stories.
Also on the bill is Ferenc Molnár's Olympia, a romantic comedy about the attraction between a young noblewoman and an army captain her mother dismisses as "a Hungarian peasant."
But Molnár's work, frothy on the surface, eventually reveals more substance than its early laughs suggest.
"Seeing the play is like biting into a piece of tempting meringue and finding a steel marble inside," says Stuart Hughes, a Soulpepper founding member who plays Captain Kovacs.
"You expect one thing and find a real surprise. It's those layers that make it worth investigating."
This isn't the first piece by the Hungarian writer that the company has staged. It's twice mounted The Play's The Thing, a well-crafted piece about a potentially disastrous love triangle whose complications are sorted out by a wily producer.
For Olympia, artistic director Albert Schultz, who's also helming the production, brought in the estimable Michael Healey (The Drawer Boy, Plan B) to adapt the 1928 script.
"Michael's version, lean, precise and elegant, clips along with fine humour," notes Hughes, whose Soulpepper work includes The Dumb Waiter, The Zoo Story, A Streetcar Named Desire and She Stoops To Conquer. "But he keeps the stakes high throughout the piece to justify its ending.
"While the characters say one thing, their subtext is different. They're trying to mask their true feelings, though oftentimes they're unsuccessful. The result? The emotions they try to keep in check erupt and get spattered about."
Hughes is good at creating a cocky, self-assured figure put to the test by the woman to whom he's attracted. His character is caught between love and a sense of personal honour, which turns out to be a difficult struggle.
The actor's returned to Toronto each summer for the past three years to work with Soulpepper. The rest of the year he's based in Los Angeles with his wife, Megan Follows. The two of them appear in Fool For Love next month.
He's especially proud of the company's collaboration with George Brown Theatre (the two groups move into a new theatre in the Distillery District next year) and the mentorship program that's part of Soulpepper's mandate.
"It's important for us not just to be an acting company but also a group that makes a structural difference in the theatre community, learning and sharing what we learn with others."