The fleeting nature of young love is likened to an evasive sea of illusionary water in Fata Morgana, a Hungarian play written in 1915 and currently on stage at the Pacific Resident Theatre. The production pays whimsical homage to a coming-of-age romance penned by Ernest Vajda, pairing strong leading actors with gorgeous costumes, an atmospheric set, and a story familiar to anyone who’s suffered the passions and pains yielded by the temporary satiation of youthful desires. The play’s title has double meaning: it is the Italian name for Morgan le Fay, the fairy half-sister of the legendary King Arthur, and a synonym for mirage.
George (Michael Hanson) is a young student forced by his father (Tony Pasqualini) to bury his nose in a book as his colorful family goes off to a nearby ball. While George’s relatives primp and prepare for the gala, they create an excited bustle in the house, a joyful hum that serves to accentuate the young man’s misery. Once left alone, George proves himself a good boy when he refuses to take off with his schoolmate, Charlie (Matthew Soson), a miscreant who tries to talk George into breaking his father’s rules and swapping a night of scholarly pursuits for women, pubs, and general misbehavior. George does the right thing, until Mathilde Fay (Ursula Brooks) arrives. Then, he suddenly becomes a bad boy. A very bad boy.
Mathilde is the bombshell wife of George’s second cousin, Gabriel (Scott Conte), and George has heard tell of her lusty ways. As the night draws on, the older seductress ensnares our young hero and his heart is forever changed. Though she’s a cosmopolitan city woman, George believes Mathilde will stay with him forever on the Puszta, the simple, country-like Hungarian plain, where magical mirages appear and quickly disappear in the heat of summer.
Simply put, the play is a pleasure on several levels. It is touching to witness George fall so hard, so fast, remaining steadfast in his terribly naïve belief that Mathilde will soon be his wife. Even after the pair’s single night of passion, when the family has returned from the ball and Mathilde has become just another face in the crowded house, George insists she will be his bride. When Gabriel shows up with lavish plans to treat the money-hungry Mathilde to a summer trip, George holds fast to his idealistic image of his one-night stand morphing into a marriage. His innocence is as hilarious as it is saddening, and the playwright’s use of the mirage as a metaphor for flash-in-the-pan love is deft.
The show is a success not just because of the universally appealing story of innocence lost, but also because of the talents of director Marilyn Fox and her gifted cast. Hanson is adorable as the know-nothing, smitten teenager, while Brooks boasts a large supply of talent as a sexy seductress. The ensemble also adds touches that should not be overlooked, particularly Irene Roseen as the meddling gossip, Rosalie. Audrey Eisner’s costumes are so eye-catching that we can hardly wait to see what dress Mathilde will wear next.
If you’ve ever been a fool in love, go see Fata Morgana and remember why mirages sometimes seem so real.
Through December 21 at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Boulevard. Tickets $20 – $25. Call 310.822.8392 or visit pacificresidenttheatre.com.