Capsized Flotsam

Donaco Smyth's play, advertised as "a gay Edwardian comedy," is set in 1904 London. Famous novelist Basil Oakenbridge (Smyth) lives with his lover, Worthington (understudy Peter Ross Stephens), aka Bunny, who poses as his butler to avoid scandal — but Basil treats him as if he really were his butler, which Worthington bitterly resents. Basil also has writer's block and can't get on with his new novel, The Unhung Chandelier. His money has run out, an officious bill collector (Michael Merton) is on his track, and his addle-pated friend Edward (Scot Carlisle) has somehow plagiarized his unwritten novel and sold it to a publisher under the title The Unhinged Candelabra. It seems that a mysterious drug enabled Edward to "swoosh" to a mysterious library, which contains not only every book ever written but also every book that will be written. Also caught up in the frantic doings are a fading theatre star (understudy Julie Granata), a retired admiral (Merton again), and a pair of loony librarians (Dee Amerio Sudik and Anna Quirino Miranda) who sing duets about Ping-Pong to the tune of "The William Tell Overture."

Judging by his program notes, Smyth aspires to be a second Oscar Wilde, with "a bit of Lewis Carroll" thrown in. If this silly piece of folderol is any indication, his aspirations are doomed. The play is witless, clumsy, and naive, and the direction by Douglas Leal is broad and heavy-handed. The actors can hardly be blamed for the ridiculous behavior asked of them, and most of them execute it quite well; interestingly, two of the better performances were delivered by the understudies.

Krystyna Loboda's sets, particularly the science-fiction library, are clever in their concept, but the Victorian drawing room is too full of anachronisms for even a low-budget production. Jennifer Fulmer's costumes are handsome when graced by actors who know how to wear them.

In all honesty, I must admit that much of the audience howled with merriment at the high jinks on stage, but as Queen Victoria famously said, "We are not amused."

Presented by and at the Ark Theatre, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jun. 26-Aug. 9. (323) 969-1707. www.arktheatre.org