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By Ellen S. Comerford

Terence Rattigan's "Harlequinade," the Shaw Festival's second one-act play of the season (billed as lunchtime theater), runs through Sept. 19 at the Royal George Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Rattigan's comedy about the theater premiered in London in 1948 and on Broadway a year later. This production is the play's Canadian professional premiere. Rattigan is considered one of the leading British playwrights of the 20th century. A salute to life in the theater, "Harlequinade" is directed by Neil Munro and features Goldie Semple as aging actress Edna Selby and Peter Hutt as Arthur Gosport, her partner in life and on the stage. "Harlequinade" is pure fun. It's a backstage comedy reminiscent of the more farcical "Noises Off." Everything takes place backstage as a troupe prepares a traveling production of "Romeo and Juliet" with some well-seasoned actors in the lead roles. Everything goes wrong -- from the aging Romeo having great difficulty climbing down from the balcony to real-life problems because Gosport years ago married and fathered a daughter before he married his present wife. The daughter, her husband and baby appear backstage, eager to meet the famous actor for the first time. The only problem is, he never divorced Wife No. 1. He's a bigamist, but Gosport's real problem is that he can no longer distinguish what is real and what is imaginary.

"Harlequinade" runs for a little over an hour. It's a wonderful ensemble piece. It is fast-paced and highly entertaining. One audience member complained that, because of the laughter in the audience, he missed some important lines.

Tickets are available online through the Shaw Festival Web site at www.shawfest.com.

Ellen S. Comerford is an artist and free-lance writer from Lewiston.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 14 2004