The actors, too, appear to have been matched especially keenly to their roles, from Michelle Hurd's fetchingly inscrutable countess, Diana, the aristocratic catch over whom the men fawn and spar, to Michael Hayden's fervid secretary, Teodoro -- whose hopes for attaining Diana are dashed, raised and dashed again. As Marcela and Fabio, the household attendants whose own romantic fortunes twist in Diana's fickle fingers, Miriam Silverman and James Ricks prove to be appealing, pointedly effective foils.
And then there is David Turner, a comic actor making as auspicious a debut with the company as I have experienced. Last seen in these parts as a priceless Sir Robin in the national tour of "Monty Python's Spamalot," Turner this time portrays Teodoro's lowly sidekick, Tristan. That the role is made for mischief means that it's also made for Turner.
Could someone sign this man to an ironclad contract? (There is something wrong with a universe that hasn't found a prominent perch for him.) In a scene out of another golden age -- classic television sketch comedy -- Turner plays a disguised Tristan, pulling the wool over the gullible eyes of old Duke Ludovico (David Sabin, doing a lovely comic riff himself). Turner must pretend to be a Greek merchant (or is he Armenian? Tristan's forgetful) while wearing an oversized turban and a fat suit.
Yes, you're right, it could be insufferable. Turner and Sabin, though, make of the scene a delicious, lopsided match of wits. Tristan improvises a ludicrous story about Teodoro's past, designed to convince the duke of a patently ridiculous connection between them. Which Sabin's dupe of a duke swallows whole. At the point of the duke's payoff line -- "My heart tells me this is true!" -- an audience finds its bliss.
With his canny set designer, Alexander Dodge, Munby, who formerly was an assistant director with the Royal Shakespeare Company, envisions a luxe Neapolitan lair for Diana of handsomely ornate wooden screens. It's the kind of environment in which love easily hides from view. The gist of "Dog in the Manger," which takes its title from a phrase that means someone who denies things to others even though she doesn't want them herself, is Diana's on-again, off-again passion for Teodoro. He's taboo by reason of his lowlier station. And yet she has a hard time keeping her mitts to herself. The plays takes dips again and again in that reservoir of sexual tension.