Review: Idiot’s Delight (Soulpepper)

Idiot’s Delight is a comedic anti-war drama playing at Toronto’s Young Centre for the Performing Arts

Soulpepper opened their 2014 season last night with Idiot’s Delight, Robert E. Sherwood’s Pulitzer Prize winning play written in 1936. Theatre was different then, casts were big. It’s not often anymore that you have an opportunity to see a play with a cast of 20 talented actors.

Idiot’s Delight is set at a resort in the Italian Alps. Initially, aside from the staff, the multicultural hotel has only one occupant: a phlegmatic German scientist who wishes nothing more than to leave. But as one would expect in Europe in 1936, tensions escalate rapidly between world powers, borders are closed, and when a train is unexpectedly stopped, guests begin streaming in the doors: a couple of English honeymooners; a whole troupe of song-and-dance blondes from America; a harried showman-cum-manager; a French communist and rabble-rouser; a notorious and well-connected arms dealer; and a dangerous Russian woman who has never, in her life, told anyone the complete truth–about herself, about the world, about anything.

The action all takes place in the bar. People come and go: groups form, break apart, and reform anew. People talk and drink. Will the train continue its journey to Switzerland? Will they be able to leave Italy? Will there be war after all?

On the Soulpepper website Idiot’s Delight is described as a “mad-cap romance” and in the press release as a romantic comedy. My friend Elaine and I were expecting something light and fun. At intermission we both said, at the same time, “this isn’t a light little comedy”.

Essentially it’s an anti-war play with some funny dialogue. Sherwood was very prescient; the war didn’t start until 1939. He wrote the play in 1936 and accurately predicted which countries would be involved and on which sides.

The entire cast is very talented and deliver performances that flesh out the characters. Some of that is Sherwood’s script and some is Albert Schultz’s direction, but I’d like to emphasize some stand-out performances.

Diego Matamoros as Achille Weber, the arms dealer, didn’t spend a lot of time on stage and didn’t have much dialogue and still managed to imbue Weber with nastiness. Dan Chameroy as Harry Van, a gun-chewing American touring Europe with a troupe of dancers hoping for their big break, was terrific. Charming, articulate, cynical, and under it all, a romantic.

Raquel Duffy was perfect as Irene – Achille’s Russian mistress. Sophisticated spinner of tall tales, glamorous, but brittle and vulnerable.

Evan Buliung was lovely as Dumpsty the waiter. There was a sweet moment when he sang a couple of lines of “I’ll Never Smile Again” in the empty cafe. I just noticed that the song wasn’t written until 1939 which answered my unspoken question about whether all the elements in the play were the same as they were in 1936.

Lorenzo Savoini’s art deco set was lovely. He also did the costumes, which were great. Fabulous shoes.

No spoilers here so I can’t tell you why but the ending was fabulous.

Elaine and I both enjoyed the show. I have to say that for me it felt as if the tempo was a bit off but Elaine disagreed. It could just be that my tempo is a bit off these days.

Details:

  • Idiot’s Delight is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until March 1st
  • Performances are Monday through Saturday at 7:30 pm with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 11:30
  • Ticket prices range from $29.00 to $74.00
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-866-8666, and in person at the box office

Photo of Dan Chameroy and Raquel Duffy by Cylla von Tiedemann.