OLYMPIA by Ferenc Molnár, adapted by Michael Healey, directed by Albert Schultz, with Kristin Booth, Stuart Hughes, Nancy Palk and Brenda Robins. Presented by Soulpepper at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Runs in rep to September 29. $32.50-$51.50, stu $25, limited same-day rush $5-$18. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNN
Along with some big laughs, Ferenc Molnár 's 1928 play Olympia provides some telling insights into Old World class systems and social behaviour. It also features a juicy comic role that's nearly on a par with Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell.
Lucky for us that Soulpepper has hired Drawer Boy writer Michael Healey to adapt the play, and Nancy Palk - who's equally good at drama and comedy - to play Princess Eugenie.
At a health resort in the Austrian Alps, the Princess and her daughter, Olympia ( Kristin Booth ), are passing the time playing bridge, attending balls and dallying with the déclassé natives.
Olympia has been spending too much time with Kovacs ( Stuart Hughes ), a Hungarian soldier whom Eugenie calls a peasant. When the daughter breaks off their relationship, it's revealed that Kovacs has some secrets, a fact that sets in motion a tightly constructed plot involving theft, blackmail and sex.
Healey's (The Drawer Boy) adaptation is direct, vivid and very funny. He's presumably kept in such dated and potentially offensive phrases as "radioactive baths," "Apache," and "Oriental" to provide social and cultural context. Clever move. He also plays the small role of Count Albert, a hen-pecked husband to Brenda Robins 's Countess, who's looking for any impropriety on the part of Eugenie and her daughter.
Albert Schultz 's production, handsomely designed by Peter Hartwell , underlines the social satire but doesn't quite capture the fin-de-siècle gravitas that's there in the script. The piece floats along like a Hepburn and Grant drawing room comedy, changes gears midway to become a Hitchcock thriller, but falters near its unearned ending.
Some of that is due to the casting of Booth in the title role. Looking glam and every inch the ingenue, she fails to suggest any emotional complexity beneath the haughty exterior. Hughes succeeds better with his proud soldier; his ardour seems more believable than hers.
As a local police officer, Oliver Dennis delivers some amusing clown turns to round out the scenes, and Robins brings an animal quality to her jealous, manic gossipmonger.
Still, Palk steals the show as the Martha Stewart of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Whether slamming entire cultures with a choice one-liner or soberly admitting that privilege has its price, she's magnetic.