A devoted daughter sacrifices her dreams to care for her aging father; Daddy's losing his marbles, and his loving little girl fears she may be heading down the same path; a posthumous discovery throws the grieving survivors' lives into turmoil. Another production of the mega-hit South Coast Rep's Proof? Nope, it's Bernard Farrell's Lovers at Versailles, receiving its American premiere at the Laguna Playhouse, and this time, everything's played for laughs in a heartfelt exploration of love and duty in the New Ireland.
The death of her beloved father Stephen (Joe Medalis) has sent the fortysomething Anna (Kelley Hazen) reeling down Memory Lane. Years before, her devotion to the colorful old bugger and her emotionally manipulative mother Clara (Marcia Rodd) forced her to abandon at the altar her one great love, the saintly David (Kevin Black), forgoing true happiness for a life assisting her father in the family shop. Now, with the old man gone, the ambitious social climber Clara, Anna's sister Isobel (Rebecca Dines), and second-rate football star Tony (Richard Ashton) are planning to turn the shop into a health club —and Anna into a full-time, unpaid cook, nanny and housekeeper. To make matters worse, Clara has found a stack of old love letters to Stephen from an unknown woman, setting off an ugly wave of emotional recrimination and driving Anna deeper into the past.
Despite the heavy dramatic undertones, director Andrew Barnicle deftly keeps the production grounded in the relatively sunny realms of romantic comedy. Blessed with a gifted cast (with an especially charming turn by the wonderful Medalis and able comic support from the frenetic Dines and Ashton) and anchored by sweetly vulnerable performances from Hazen and Black, the play smoothly transitions back and forth in time, subtly emphasizing the tendency of the past to intrude on the present, and expertly building audience expectations for the inevitable romantic reunion. Oh, sure, it would have been nice if Farrell had spent more time exploring the social upheavals that economic change have wrought in the New Ireland and how those changes have left some good people behind, but that was Richard Harris in The Field; this one's about love and second chances, and the Laguna Playhouse gets it right the first time.
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Lovers at Versailles at the Laguna Playhouse's Moulton Theatre, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-ARTS. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Through March 23. $42-$49.