Changes of Heart, or The Double Inconstancy, is an 18th-century French comedy by Pierre De Marivaux, translated and adapted by Stephen Wadsworth. Damon Bonetti, who directs this new production by the Philadelphia Artists' Collective, styles the play as a screwball comedy, and watching this cast is like watching a master class in shtick.
Although the original setting is the French court, and although there are many gilt picture frames and a violet chaise longue, you're likely to be reminded of bits and pieces of 1930s movies, with their over-the-top mugging, pratfalls, flirting with the audience, and whatever other exaggerated stuff anybody comes up with.
The basic plot is this: Silvia (Jessica DalCanton) is a lovely peasant girl who has been snatched from her village by the Prince (Kevin Meehan), who, despite being surrounded by sophisticated beauties, prefers Silvia's simplicity. Rather than exercising his droit de seigneur, he wants her to fall in love with him. Silvia is distraught and bewildered — and not a little smug about her own good looks, and not a little self-righteous about her own "fidelity, honor, and good faith."
Meanwhile, Harlequin (Dan Hodge) is Silvia's boyfriend, a country bumpkin who comes to court to reclaim her. Meanwhile, Lisette (Krista Apple), one of the glamour girls, slinks around in a red dress and sunglasses, hoping to seduce the Prince herself. Meanwhile (you're getting the picture here?), Flaminia (Charlotte Northeast) finds herself fed up with court artificiality and falls for Harlequin. They are aided in their meanwhiles and shenanigans and intrigues by a wry, long-suffering servant (John Lopes) and a suave piano player (Andrew Clotworthy).
Will love win the day? Will pastoral simplicity triumph? You betcha, especially if it looks gorgeous in a brand-new slinky gown.
The show starts out silly and winds up sweet; the conclusion is surprisingly, genuinely touching after all the broad and goofy business of the first act. When the valet remarks, "If this idiot plays every scene this way, it could be a long evening." And he does, and it is, but it's worth it. Bonetti keeps the pace lively and makes excellent use of the odd space. The cast is supremely talented and everybody seems to be having an awful lot of fun.
Changes of Heart
Philadelphia Artists' Collective at Broad Street Ministry, 315 S. Broad St. Through May 26. Tickets $15. Information: 800-838-3006