“Fata Morgana” is a bittersweet coming-of-age story set in a provincial village in Hungary in the early years of the 20th century. It is the night of the annual Anna Ball, Hungary’s premier social event, first held in 1825 and still held each July in various cities around the country. As is traditional, friends and family have gathered in their fussy finery at George Peredy’s family’s home, prior to catching the train to the nearest ball.

George, the autobiographical alter ego of playwright Ernest Vajda, is a handsome 18-year-old, played with innocent charm by Michael Hanson, making his first post-UCLA debut and doing a handsome job of it. George has decided to stay home this year, much to everyone’s chagrin. But no sooner has everyone left than a beautiful blonde arrives.

She is Mathilde Fay (Ursula Brooks), the flirtatious wife of Gabriel Fay (a blustering, portentous Scott Conte), George’s uncle. She has been introduced earlier through the gossip of the neighbors, who have noted that she is reputedly cheating on her husband by dallying with a count.

Mathilde has a minor hissy fit when she discovers that she has missed the family’s departure for the ball and that she has also missed the last train of the evening.

But she perks up when she conceives of a different diversion: teasing and tormenting poor bewildered George.

Eventually realizing that he is too inexperienced to follow up on her sexual advances, she climbs the stairs to his bedroom and doesn’t come down again.

George, of course, falls completely in love with her and actually believes her blithe assurances that she loves him, too. And he proceeds to make a fool of himself when his family returns by announcing that he is planning to marry her just as soon as she divorces her husband.

It’s a simple plot, easily resolved, leaving George sadder but wiser and Mathilde free to continue cuckolding her devoted husband with whomever she will. And living up to the reputation of her wily namesake, the fairy Morgan le Fay, step-sister of King Arthur, pupil of the wizard Merlin, and creator of a particular kind of watery mirage frequently seen on the plains of Italy and Hungary.

The appeal of this beguiling play, however, comes not from the plot, but from the uncomplicated inhabitants of this unsophisticated village in the boondocks of Hungary. Heading the excellent cast are George’s parents, Sarah Brooke and Tony Pasqualini, a warm and loving couple in the play as well as in real life.

And supreme among the gossiping neighbor-ladies is Irene Roseen, easily recognizable for the many performances she has given in L.A. productions and some 14 shows at the South Coast Repertory Theatre.

Marilyn Fox, artistic director of the Pacific Resident Theatre, has taken this talented ensemble and made them believable, albeit quaint, and endowed them with an old-fashioned dignity you wouldn’t mind seeing in neighbors of your own.

Robert Broadfoot and Audrey Eisner, set and costume designers, respectively, have produced the look of a Hungarian parlor of the era and the burgundy taffetas and decorous necklines worn by ladies of that time.

“Fata Morgana” might be considered an inconsequential bit of froufrou, like its costumes, but it is more than that: it’s a delightfully performed comedy with a first-rate cast. Highly enjoyable entertainment.

“Fata Morgana” will continue Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 through Feb. 28 at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd. in Venice. Call (310) 822-8392 for tickets and information on closing dates.

Cynthia Citron can be reached at ccitron@socal.rr.com.

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