THE PLAY'S THE THING by Ferenc Molnar, adapted by P.G. Wodehouse, directed by László Marton, with Michael Hanrahan, Diego Matamoros, William Webster, C. David Johnson, Allegra Fulton, Jim Warren and Jonathan Watton. Presented by Soulpepper at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Previews begin Monday (September 1), opens September 5 and runs to September 27, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday (September 3) and September 13 and 20 at 2 pm. $28-$46, stu $25. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
You'd have no trouble picking Allegra Fulton out in a crowd. She's the one radiating the most energy and sensuality. It's pretty hard to be immune to her appeal. When she came onstage as a presenter at last June's Dora Awards in a tight, slinky peaches-and-cream gown, even diehard queer theatre artist Ed Roy was turned on.
"Ooh, Allegra, what are you doing in that dress?" he ad-libbed when he got to the microphone. "Naughty, naughty!"
Fulton laughs when I remind her of the evening.
"Yeah, I had three minutes of glory at the Doras. I had to make it work."
It was the first time in a while she'd been onstage in front of a theatre audience. For most of the past four years she's been in front of a camera - TV, feature films, movies-of-the-week - and, with her actor husband, Shawn Doyle (The Eleventh Hour, Gagarin Way), raising their son.
Now she's back on the boards playing Ilona, a flirtatious prima donna with quicksilver moods, in Soulpepper's revival of The Play's The Thing, a seemingly frothy 20s comedy by Ferenc Molnar, adapted by sly Brit wit P.G. Wodehouse.
Engaged to a young composer, Ilona's overheard by her fiancé and his two colleagues in a sexually compromising dialogue with an old flame. It's up to one of the quick-thinking friends and Ilona to save the new play and her engagement.
"It' not hard to identify with someone who does something naughty," she says, as expressive with her face and hands as with her words, "someone who lets private passions carry her away and then gets caught."
But for the actor, there's more than light entertainment on view here.
"I love discovering Ilona's various faces, finding the facets of this catastrophe of lust that might lose her a husband. The piece is more than a bubbly comedy - the script has so many layers of humanity, lies and truths.
"It's a challenge to gather them all together, and that's part of the humour. Molnar is so true to human behaviour, so aware of how people behave when they're in deep shit."
Fulton devoted nearly seven years to her signature one-woman show, Frida K. The script, about Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, was written for Fulton as a 1992 birthday present by her mother, Gloria Montero. It won Fulton a performance Dora and toured internationally.
On the large and small screens, she's worked with Holly Hunter and Michael Moriarty under Kiefer Sutherland's direction in Woman Wanted, with James Wood in John Q. and Dirty Pictures, with Sarah Polley and Brendan Fletcher in John Greyson's The Law Of Enclosures and copped a Gemini nomination for a role in Blue Murder.
"It was a great apprenticeship in a new medium," the actor recalls. "I discovered that acting is acting in any form, and you just have to take the challenge to crack and understand a different way of working and communicating with an audience."
She's begun directing, too. She helmed Traces in the Fringe a few years ago, and - after performing in five plays by Michel Tremblay - finally tackled directing one of his works, Johnny Mangano And His Astonishing Dogs. In the last Groundswell Festival, she took on Emma C. Roberts's Excellence, Ontario.
For some reason, she and her husband have worked together only once, on The Hangman's Bride, a film they co-wrote and performed in that won, among other prizes, a best-short Genie Award.
It'd be great to see them ignite a stage as the Macbeths, Kate and Petruchio in The Taming Of The Shrew, Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing or as another pair of lovers, Millamant and Mirabell, in William Congreve's Restoration comedy The Way Of The World.
"Throw it at me," Fulton says, with a big smile and opening her arms wide. "I'll try it."
Stratford and Shaw, are you listening?