SIMPL by Peter Froehlich, directed by Richard Rose, with Froelich, Nicola Lipman and Peter Tiefenbach. Presented by the Tarragon Theatre and the National Arts Centre at the Tarragon (30 Bridgman). Runs to May 30, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $26-$32, Sunday pwyc-$15. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Don't ever think that comedy is simple. Sometimes, though, it can be simpl , as in Peter Froehlich 's play of the same name. A thin slice of German theatrical history from just before the first world war to just after the second, simpl follows the fortunes of real-life cabaret comedian Karl Valentin (Froehlich) and his stage partner, Liesl Karlstadt ( Nicola Lipman ), while the world totters and erupts outside the stage door.
The paralleling of history large- and small-scale doesn't always work, especially the worn device of a third performer ( Peter Tiefenbach , also musical accompanist) who reads headlines about offstage events and later represents the National Socialist cause. But the duo's vaudeville-style comedy routines are lovingly performed under Richard Rose 's direction. Froehlich resembles a thin Ed Wynn, and Lipman's luminously alive face reflects Karlstadt's traumas with Valentin and the government.
It's Lipman - a talented East Coast actor we don't see enough locally - who provides the show's emotional core, whether in Karlstadt's unspoken affection for the oblivious Valentin or her growing distress that he won't address the events occurring on the street.
I'd like to know more about both characters and wish some of the later comedy were more pointed, with the laughter catching in the audience's throats. But this is a work whose heart is made of red noses and false moustaches. Sometimes the cabaret routines have an annoying slackness, but the best bits - a silent-movie-style scene that has Froehlich attacking a desk and a chair, or a radio studio sketch in which confusion reigns supreme - are wonderful.