The Storm Theatre Company’s production of Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar’s 1930 play,
The President, now at The Theatre of the Church of Notre Dame, is a fast-paced and hilarious farce on privilege, identity, and the transformative power of “true love.”
The action of the play is confined to the office of Mr. Norrison (Joe Danbusky), a powerful bank president who is preparing for a much-needed vacation. An hour before his train is set to depart, Norrison discovers that Lydia (Becca Pesce), the soybean heiress whose virtue he has been charged with protecting, has secretly eloped with a communist taxi driver named Tony Foot (Matthew Waterson) — and the two are expecting a child.
So Norrison pulls out all the stops to transform Foot into Anton Von Schattenburg, an aristocratic corporate insider that any conservative capitalist would be proud to call son-in-law, performing this extreme makeover with the aid of a fevered lawyer (Brian J. Carter), a corrupt doctor (Edward Prostak), and an adoption-selling European Count-turned-janitor (Brian J. Coffey), among others. They parade in and out of Norrison’s office, smartly arranged by set designer Ken Larson on a traverse stage that serves as a kind of high-fashion runway for lunacy.
Tight performances from the entire ensemble of 22 performers — who portray a cavalcade of ridiculous characters with cartoonish accents — ensure that there is always something to laugh at and never a dull moment onstage.
Waterson is well cast as Tony, bringing a lot of sexy-but-dumb earnestness to his role. Pecse clearly relishes playing the ingénue Lydia, milking all of the sickening cuteness out of lines like, “I’m not thinking about the future; I’m in love.” Danbusky is masterful as Norrison, playing the field marshal to this ludicrous army with unflinching precision and exquisite diction.
As with any successful farce, much credit must be given to the director. Peter Dobbins has left little slack in this 75-minute production and makes sure that the heightened style feels perfectly suited to the text (which was adapted to English in 2008 by Morwyn Brebner).
In the end, The President is not so much a commentary on the virtues and vices of Capitalism versus Communism, but an observation of the theatrical nature of life. Our clothes, our shoes, our job titles, and even our names all tell a story about us to those around us, regardless of how much bearing these cosmetic things have on our actual characters.