Playwright: Arthur M. Jolly
At: Babes With Blades Theatre Company at City Lit, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: $25; BabesWithBlades.org . Runs through: Aug. 25
Sooner or later, every playwright writes a comedy utilizing motifs paying homage to Plautus, Aristophanes and Shakespearethese encompass such knotty bits as cross-gender disguises, thwarted lovers, straitlaced elders and eccentrics of all stripes. Since Arthur M. Jolly's career boasts multiple contributions to the Babes With Blades' repertoire, it's no surprise that his latest play ( and third-time winner of the company's Joining Sword and Pen competition ) should emerge part Mel Brooks, part Richard Lester and a big part Looney Tunes.
The Lester influence is evident, not merely in the inclusion of copious mayhem involving flying steel and fisticuffs augmenting a screwball premise, but in a text exhibiting wordplay rooted in classical literaturedisputations over the meaning of "nunnery," for example, or the late Lord Pepperston's habit of storing his pen in the armory because "he heard it was mightier!" We also encounter a foreign prince who speaks no English, and whose communications are conveyed to us through clues disclosed by his uncomprehending hosts. The anachronistic humor associated with Brooks is reflected in such quips as an eligible-to-wed heiress named "Trothe" ( rhymes with "trophy" ) or a servant, ordered to dispose of several fallen corpses, inquiring "Where do they go? The compost?"
Jolly's spoofery is more than post-grad pastiche, however. Beneath the slapstick shenanigans lie thought-provoking observations on the merits of marrying for love rather than for property ( and the vastly superior merits of remaining single ), the frequency of servants proving wiser than their employers and the power of greed to corrupt even the most ardent swain. Indeed, if there is one overriding theme running throughout a story predicated on many revelations imposing order and tolerance upon chaos and prejudicebesides the always reliable "Love is Love"it is the folly of judging books by their covers.
The comprehension of audiences unfamiliar with the source material is ensured by director Morgan Manasa, fight designer Samantha Kaufman and an athletic combat-trained ensemble's deft integration of a physical environment featuring frothy Georgian-era skirts and elaborate table settings with ingenious kinetic expression ( watch for a choreographic reference to Hamlet and Laertes' famous duel in the final showdown ) to convey a seemingly giddy, but in fact carefully orchestrated, confusionall the better to deliver an ending satisfactory to everyone.