Premiering at the George Street Playhouse, satirical comic romp “Celadine,” set in 17th century London, follows the timeless structure of Restoration comedy with its concealed identity, ribald humor and courtly intrigue. The play is Charles Evered’s final installment of a cloak-and-dagger trilogy, preceded last season with the George Street presentation of “Wilderness of Mirrors.” But in marked contrast to the earlier dark spy caper, “Celadine” is a spirited piece with a goodly share of spice.
A radiant Amy Irving is playwright Celadine — “the least successful and most brilliant writer in all of England” — who’s also a disarming courtly spy and former king’s mistress.
All tumbling curls and as pretty as a portrait in the Tate, Irving makes her giggling entrance riding piggy-back on a boyish mute she has taken under her protective wing. (As the mute tailor, Rob Eigenbrod has a hilarious turn beneath Celadine’s petticoat, repairing a loose hem. Irving plays the ribald situation with casual, foxy allure.) She acts the role with certified charm and enticing allure, like a Marivaux maiden completely in control of her destiny.
Michael Countryman, who can’t help posing as an “obnoxious fop,” gives a well-balanced account of a royal personage passing as a commoner. His dismissal of the annoying trumpeting heralds awaiting his every entrance and exit has a keen comic gloss.
Matt Pepper is the third-rate Hamlet in search of a new script, an elusively cunning dandy doubling as a spy. Leslie Lyles invests the gossipy housekeeper and blowsy former streetwalker with cheeky bluster.
The only drawback here is the comedy’s brevity. At 100 minutes there appears to be room left for more actor development and additional saucy hijinx behind closed curtains. Despite a clumsy sword-swinging encounter that is rather poorly staged by fight coordinator John Hayden, David Saint’s agreeably sprightly direction is quite the pink of perfection. Musical cues composed by Henry Purcell are a flavorful period asset.
Michael Anania’s serviceable set of a London coffeehouse is true to the period, centered by an imposing stone fireplace and dressed with pewter tankards and candlesticks. The period frocks created by David Murin add a colorful sweep to the proceedings.
The comedy has bright potential for regional repeats (single set and five actors) or perhaps an Off Broadway run. And if Hollywood were still making those fanciful Technicolor swashbuckling frolics, it would be a dandy entry for a Saturday matinee at the movies.