The Playhouse is a 1921 American two-reel silent comedy film written, directed by, and starring Buster Keaton. The movie runs for 22 minutes, and is most famous for an opening sequence in which Keaton plays every role.
The film is set up as a series of humorous tricks on the audience, with constant doubling, and in which things are rarely what they at first seem to be. It opens with Keaton attending a variety show. In this first sequence, Keaton plays the conductor and every member of the orchestra, the actors, dancers, stagehands, minstrels, and every member of the audience, male and female. As an audience member, Keaton turns to the “woman” sitting beside him and remarks, “This fellow Keaton seems to be the whole show.” This was a gibe at one of Keaton’s contemporaries, Thomas Ince, who credited himself generously in his film productions. In interviews with Kevin Brownlow, Keaton claims he gave the director’s credit to Cline mainly because he did not want to appear too Ince-like himself: “Having kidded things like that, I hesitated to put my own name on as a director and writer.”
This elaborate trick-photography sequence turns out to be only a dream when Joe Roberts rouses Keaton from bed. The bedroom then turns out to be not a bedroom, but a set on a stage.
The second half of the film features Keaton’s character falling for a girl who happens to be a twin. He has difficulty telling the twin who likes him from the one who does not. An uncredited Virginia Fox plays one of the twins. Edward F. Cline co-wrote the production and appears, uncredited, as a monkey trainer, whose monkey Keaton impersonates onstage after accidentally letting the animal escape.