To the 20-something, good-looking, and shirtless Boston-based Tony (Jarid Faubel), the scent of exotic blossoms is as real and potent for him as is the warming touch of the skin of the faceless Love Goddess with whom he is carrying on a rather delectably torrid internet love affair. Though he rightly begins to suspect that this playfully inclined seductress (who calls him her Love Tiger) is in India, he decides that the time has come for them to make an in-the-flesh connection.
To do so, he enlists the help of his best friend, Fen (Alexander Elisa), an African-American the midst of a problematic live-in relationship with the marriage-opposed Lydia (Zenzele Cooper). Through Fen, Tony meets Francisco (Anthony Cotto), a Latin-American teenager who infiltrates and hacks websites, and hires him to locate this Love Goddess. So begins a charming and disarming roundelay of relationships that has its roots in Arthur Schnitzler’s 19th-century sexcapade “La Ronde.”
The playwright R.N. Sandberg has, however, cleverly rooted “Roundelay” in the racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity that weaves through contemporary society, especially in America. His play takes a more ebullient and humorous approach to finding, rather than forgetting, a sexual partner, as originally conceived in Schnitzler’s more class-conscious comedy. Sandberg — who teaches playwriting at Princeton and has had plays produced internationally and throughout the United States — has written one of the most entertaining comedies I have seen this entire season.
Though we are treated to a great deal of globetrotting from Boston to India, to a Caribbean beach, to the Kenyan coast in this high-spirited romp, the source of our delight is the deliciously convoluted amorous adventures and misadventures of its 10 characters. Filled with humor and wit, “Roundelay” pulls off the most difficult trick of all — a real dramatic surprise and a resolution that will make you believe in destiny. For this we have to thank Sandberg’s keenly nuanced ear for ethnicity and for the ingratiating eccentricities that define each of the characters, with four of the actors doubling in their roles.
Winningly embraced within Sandberg’s dramatic maze is Priya (the very beautiful Meera Mohan). She is a well-to-do Indian woman in her 20s who dreams of following her heart, even if it means saying no to the marriage proposal made by her earnest and impassioned medical co-worker, Dr. Kupta (also played by Elisa in a remarkable transformation). She is determined to run off — leaving her home, work, and suitor — and go as far away and as quickly as she can in search of love. In doing so, she leaves a closet full of saris — much to the delight of her brother Rajiv (also played by the wonderfully talented Cotto).
Is it fate or a coincidence that Priya finds herself at a magical spot in Kenya, where one goes in hope of receiving “God’s breath?” There she meets the recently married lesbian couple — the nervous Surayya (another wonderful transformation by Cooper) and her comically exuberant white partner, Sonya (Kate Brennan) — who have come to seek the blessing of the family that Surayya hasn’t seen in many years. Lest my sharing some of the almost giddily spinning plot twists and turns and its endearing characters seem more than you can keep up with, there is more.
One of the most pleasurable aspects of the play is the feeling that there are more characters and actors involved than is actually the case. This is a result of a harmonious ensemble that has been able to create completely distinct personas and appearances with lightning quick changes. The characters, filled with the prospect of pursuing their innermost fantasies as well as confronting the more basic realities of their lives, offer many laugh-out-loud moments, as does Sandberg’s rich, subtle, and smart text.
A lot of credit goes to director Adam Immerwahr, who has cleverly envisioned the play, despite its many yet craftily interconnected links. I hope you will relish as much as I did how each segment smoothly segues into the next, all leading us to a resolution that will make you smile not only at the possibility of magic as a mediator, but marvel at the use of the internet as a provider. Jeffrey Van Velsor’s impressive ultra modernist setting — a green ramp and multi-hued columns beautifully bathed in the lighting designed by Paul Kilsdonk — is all these characters need to get from place to place as they set out to seek and fulfill their heart’s desire.
Roundelay, Passage Theater, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 Front Street, Trenton. Continues to Sunday, April 7. Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. $28 to $33. 609-392-0766 or www.passagetheatre.org.