Farce can be a fickle thing. Comic timing, fast paced, sexual innuendo, physical comedy, mistaken identities, slamming doors, quirky plot twists and people trying to pretend to be someone else are all necessary elements of a great farce. Unnecessary Farce at OCTA has all of these and is a delightfully fun evening (or afternoon) of theater.
Written in 2006 by actor Paul Slade Smith while Smith was touring in Phantom of the Opera, it combines all the classic elements of farce from Shakespeare to Ray Cooney to Ken Ludwig and weaves a highly improbable and outrageously funny story with two cops, three crooks and eight doors.
Officers Eric Sheridan (Matthew Henrickson) and Billie Dwyer (Jessica Franz) are not the best and brightest on the force, but they are in a cheap motel room for a sting operation involving Mayor Meekly (Bill Bergman) and the city’s new accountant Karen Brown (Laura Irwin) who leads a sexually repressed life and has discovered a large amount of money missing and brought it to the attention of the police as the Mayor sets a clandestine meeting in the cheap hotel. They have set up a camera in one room and a TV and VCR in an adjoining room. Billie has had a few…. issues during her academy training. She would have been first in her class if not for the guns…. and the hand to hand combat… and the driving… and, well, you get the picture. Eric suffers from an inability to make decisions, especially with women.
As the story unfolds we find that Eric and Karen spent the previous night “preparing” for the sting by spending time together getting close, but not too close due to Eric’s inability to make the first move and Karen’s sexual repression. This has fueled Karen’s sexual desires which overflow while Billie is setting up the VCR and watches on TV unable to turn everything off. Franz creates a hilarious Barney Fife’esque delivery as Henrickson plays the straight man who desperately tries to keep everything on track. Brown creates a strong and layered character who sheds her repression as she sheds her clothes for seemingly every man in the play at one point or another.
As Mayor Meekly enters he is simple and clueless about everything. He is eventually ushered out of the room by Agent Frank (Reed Uthe) who is the head of security for the mayor. At first I couldn’t get a bead on Uthe’s character, but as the play unfolds we see the strong comedic choices he made work extremely well. Add to this crazy mix the Scottish Clan’s (with a C) Highland hit man Todd (Mike Tufano) and the mayor’s mousy wife (Joyce Halford) and stir up the hilarity. Todd’s Scottish brogue started off a bit rough, but improved immensely very quickly. And the angrier Todd gets, the thicker his brogue and, per the script, the harder he gets to understand, which causes all sorts of problems for the other characters.
I won’t take you through all the crazy plot points because it’s so much fun to discover them yourself. Bergman’s Mayor Meekly is aptly named and he does an excellent job playing the malleable mayor. Tufano’s Todd takes the character to extremes, but keeps him grounded for an extremely quirky and funny hit man you can’t help but like. And yes, there is a kilt involved. Halford’s Mary Meekly is clueless and vapid as she shows up searching for her husband at inopportune moments.
Director Bill Pelletier has assembled a cast of strong actors and moves this play at just the right pacing to keep all the plates spinning. His care in blocking and creating the right pictures combined with a good depth of characters, which can often be ignored by directors of a farce, ground the play while playing up the absurdity. The one lacking component was the physical combat. It did flow cleanly and looked too staged.
There are a LOT of doors for rooms bathrooms, closets and adjoining doors in this play. Set Designer Bill Wright, who is new to OCTA but well known around town for doing quality sets, built the perfect set. In a farce with so many slamming doors, the set looks great and holds up well. Wright says in his bio he looks forward to working there again and it would be a boon to OCTA, who often struggles with more elaborate sets, if he did more shows there.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the costumes and props. Marla Gonzales makes the cast look great including Todd’s full Scottish outfit and Amanda Rhodes’ props bring realism to this Unnecessary Farce.
On Friday night the stage speech became more like an opening act as board members Peter Leondedis and Charlotte Gillman had fun explaining what “unnecessary” things they were doing, like a raffle and corn bread in a can. They got the audience laughing and set the stage well. Is farce necessary? I like to think it is. And this is a well done farce that will keep you laughing and wondering until the final laugh.
Unnecessary Farce closes THIS weekend so don’t wait. It runs Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 2. For more details and tickets go to KC Stage.
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