Last night I saw the opening performance of the American Shakespeare Center's production of The Rehearsal, a bit of meta-farce by George Villiers (and collaborators) that you've probably never seen, at least not in North America.
It's ridiculous and hilarious, and I don't think "brilliant" is going too far. Not that the play is special--it's a silly lampooning of the English theater of the 17th Century--but the staging here and the performances will have you completely in stitches.
Here's the deal: Mr. Bayes, a playwright played by Christopher Seiler, is shwoing off his new play, now in dress rehearsal, to Messrs. Johnson and Smith, played by Allison Glenzer and Luke Eddy. Seiler is fantastic as the pompous and arrogant writer, too proud of his own clumsy work and crazy plot, and Glenzer and Eddy make fine foils for Seiler's comedy. The play within the play employs the rest of the ASC company in multiple roles both celestial and terrestial--Thunder, Lightning, a pair of kings, a pair of usurpers, various lovers and soldiers, and, toward the end, the Sun, Moon, and Earth. The company works so well together that this mish-mash is a joy to watch. Eventually, Smith and Johnson give up on the horrible play, and head off to lunch. Bayes races after them, but returns, dejected, only to find that most of the actors have gone off to have their lunch, also. Whereupon he storms out of the theater, leaving the remaining actors with nothing to do . . . but go to lunch.
The copy of the play that I found online, here, also includes an Epilogue that the ASC production did not use:
The Play is at an end, but where’s the Plot?
That circumstance our Poet Bayes forgot,
And we can boast, though ’tis a plotting Age,
No place is freer from it than the Stage.
The Ancients Plotted, though, and strove to please
With sence that might be understood with ease;
They every Scene with so much wit did store
That who brought any in, went out with more:
But this new way of wit does so surprise,
Men lose their wits in wond’ring where it lyes.
If it be true, that Monstrous births presage
The following mischiefs that afflicts the Age,
And sad disasters to the State proclaim;
Plays, without head or tail, may do the same.
Wherefore, for ours, and for the Kingdoms peace,
May this prodigious way of writing cease.
Let’s have, at least, once in our lives, a time
When we may hear some Reason, not all Rhyme:
We have these ten years felt its Influence;
Pray let this prove a year of Prose and Sence.
The Epilogue might not make sense to modern audiences, and its omission is not great loss. The production, as it stands, is wonderful, and not to be missed.