A tasty plateful of Stoppard Lite.

by Cary M. Mazer

On the Razzle

Wilma Theater, Broad and Spruce Sts., through March 29, 546-STAGE

Immensely entertaining, as light as a Viennese cream puff, as swift as a runaway hansom cab, as densely packed with puns, spoonerisms and malapropisms as Mozart-Kugeln is with marzipan, On the Razzle, Tom Stoppard's rewrite of an 1842 farce by the Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy, is everything you can expect from a play of no substance whatsoever.

"Why do I have a sense of impending disaster?" Herr Zangler (Patrick Tull), a linguistically challenged successful greengrocer in suburban Vienna, muses halfway through the first scene. He's about to go into town to wine and dine a wealthy widowed milliner (Mercedes Herrero) while packing off his ward and niece (Jackson Gay) to his sister-in-law (Marcia Saunders) to prevent her from eloping with an impoverished gentlemen (John Zak). Little does he know that his chief clerk (John Thomas Waite) and apprentice (Rebecca Hunter Lowman) are going to close up shop for a day of adventure on the town, that his niece is wearing a Scottish outfit on precisely the day that everyone in Vienna is in the grips of a Macbeth-and-Sir-Walter-Scott-inspired highland fashion craze, and that all these people, along with his fiancee's widowed friend (Antoinette LaVecchia), his newly hired servant (Patrick Morris), and various waiters, policemen and servants, including a rump-obsessed coachman (John Francis Brown), will end up, in various disguises, tartans and states of dress and undress in the same fashionable restaurant. "One false move," Zangler concludes, "and we'll have a farce on our hands."

Tom Stoppard's immensely entertaining On the Razzle is everything you can expect from a play of no substance whatsoever.

Precisely. Stoppard, working over this much-worked-over material (most familiarly in Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker and Jerry Herman's Hello Dolly! ), does everything he can to cram the play to the brim (farce, after all, means "stuffed") with coincidences, mistaken identities and equally mistaken intentions. And director Jiri Zizka keeps the characters popping out of the trapdoors, cabinets and from behind the screens of David P. Gordon's jack-in-the-box sets at a fast and furious pace.

At the same time, Stoppard crams the play full with a dense confection of wordplay so incessant that, after niece becomes knees, the cock of the walk becomes the Sheik of Kuwait, and polite German-speakers thank each other by acknowledging that the weather is dank and bitter, you can always be sure that the wurst is yet to come. All this cleverness would threaten to weight down the play (as I fear it does in Stoppard's Molnar adaptation, Rough Crossing) if there was any play to weight down; here, it just slows down the headlong pace of the farce a bit. And I waive my usual objections to British accents since the actors at the Wilma use theirs to such great effect in pulling the verbal plums out of the pudding.

You can look forward to some winning performances - Lowman is particularly charming and spunky in her drag role, and Waite is wonderfully dreamy as the aging aspirant-bourgeois drudge eager to acquire a past to look back on in his old age before it's too late. Several of the principals (e.g. Saunders) reappear in some interesting character roles. And look for multiple cameos from Harry Philibosian, Joe Guzman, Brian Kelly and Deborah Seif.

And where else can you hear "Wiener Blut" played on the bagpipes, if that's your muddle of kitsch… um, butt of a bitch… um, kettle of fish.