One of the most intriguing angles to The Old Globe Theatre's The Pleasure of His Company has nothing to do with the acting or the script. It involves a terrific piece of tech work, wherein the sun sets in real-time over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, in full view of the lucky stiffs from the city's posh Presidio district. The sky darkens in lockstep with the plot, marking the action as effectively as Patrick Page's performance and the anecdotal writing by Samuel Taylor and Cornelia Otis Skinner.
In fact, there's an awful lot to like about this piece, chiefly because it makes its point the hard way. The stately sunset and statelier living quarters are no match for the play's wacky situations and complex family relationships, and those elements combined make this play the bedroom farce that it is—but the craziness is often quite subtle, and the cast is charged with keeping things low-key. That takes some serious actorial restraint, with the players painstakingly toeing the line between situation comedy and something approaching burlesque. With few exceptions, and under Darko Tresnjak's direction, Pleasure (a Broadway success in 1958 and a movie hit three years later) is an ideal exercise for seasoned actors, and it's certainly among The Globe's better pieces in a while.
San Francisco debutante Jessica Poole (Erin Chambers) is engaged to Napa Valley rancher Roger Henderson (Matt Biedel), and she's aching for her long-absent dad Biddeford “Pogo” Poole (Page) to show up at the wedding. Alpha male Pogo seems intent on breaking up the pair; he disses Roger as a rube, and he'll wine and dine Jessica at every turn, claiming he's making up for lost time (he's even scored two tickets to Paris, and the flight leaves directly after the reception). But Jessica, it turns out, isn't the real object of his affections, and in typical Pogo fashion, he's been using her all along to rekindle things with ex-wife Katharine (Ellen Karas).
Pogo's obviously found himself in a million compromising situations amid all that globetrotting, and he's talked his way out of every one of 'em with room to spare. His defense mechanisms feature an ersatz charm and a subtle condescension, both of which he's brought back home in substantial measure—and Page wears these traits like he sports his own skin. Watch the chemistry develop between Pogo and manservant Toi (Sab Shimono); Page is excellent at ingratiating himself as the situation requires.
Karas and Chambers nicely reflect their characters' exasperation with the menfolk, although Karas lacks some of the matriarchal qualities that would have helped define Katharine. For his part, Biedel overplays Roger every so often—he's a sensitive lover one minute and a thin-skinned hothead the next, and it's surprising that Tresnjak hasn't moderated the latter behavior.
But Tresnjak is an excellent hand at making action fluid and readable, and that's a tall order with farce and its frenetic traits. Pleasure thus looks and feels more like a slice of life than a parody of it—it calls us on our own romantic weaknesses without hammering us over our own unsuspecting heads. This review is based on the opening-night performance of July 17. The Pleasure of His Company runs through Aug. 10 at the Old Globe mainstage, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park. $54-$56. 619-23-GLOBE or www.oldglobe.org.