BWW Review: Director Brings Experience and Energy to RUN FOR YOUR WIFE at Dutch Apple
Back in 1983, the estimable Bernard Cribbins first set foot on a West End stage as the infamous John Smith, and theatre has never looked back. Ray Cooney, one of England's finest modern farce writers (like Jerry Lewis, he's universally adored in France - the difference is that Cooney is better), awarded an OBE in 2005 for his service to country... or is that to comedy? - was responsible for the script, as he's been for a number of other equally redoubtable farces.
At Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, director Victor Legaretta has cast himself - for his sixth starring role in it - as John Smith in RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, one of Cooney's most Popular Productions. That he knows the play well is evident; that he becomes John Smith completely on stage one cannot know until seeing him do so. Legaretta's understanding of Cooney is extraordinary both as a director and as an actor, and understanding farce is no small accomplishment.
That you've walked into a farce you know as soon as you see the set - two complementary halves of a home, matching but differently decorated... and full to the brim with that staple of farce, enough doors to let in an army. The essence of farce is precisely timed entrances and exits allowing for the misunderstandings and misdirection to start rolling, and in RUN FOR YOUR WIFE they could not roll faster. John Smith is not a womanizer. He's not a Lothario. He's only fallen in love twice, he's married both women... the only problem is that the events only happened a few months apart, and so he's married to both of them. He has two separate households in two separate sections of London (hence the two home halves, one for each wife and neighborhood), spends equal time with both of them (he's able to make enough as a cabbie to maintain both households - don't ask, it's a farce; there's always a point destined to be inexplicable), and everything works perfectly with neither knowing about the other until the day his carefully crafted schedule breaks down.
If only he hadn't helped that old lady and been hit in the head and concussed - if only the Evening Standard wouldn't run his district, Wimbledon, as well as his name and picture in it for his heroism, so if only his wife in Streatham wouldn't read the paper... and if only his wife in Wimbledon could be distracted long enough for him to go keep his other wife from seeing the paper... If that's not enough to keep a show going, nothing is.
The doors become meaningful for hiding from wives... and sometimes for hiding wives... and for two detectives, one from Wimbledon and one from Streatham, determined to find out how two cabbies named John Smith were in the hospital at once. Both of them would believe the stories that Smith is feeding them, if only... well, yes, it's a giant house of cards. Smith is an elegant liar, a feat he's needed for carrying off his marriages, but suddenly he's throwing about enough lies to confuse even him, and with his friend and neighbor Stanley now joining the lying brigade in an attempt to help cover Smith's tracks, keeping up with the stories is becoming a major emergency.
Legaretta's own timing is fine, and he's conveyed the importance of timing to the rest of the cast. His neighbor Stanley, played by finally-returning actor Erik Hogan, is also a fine physical comedian, a requirement for the massive feats of bumbling , tripping, and rolling over sofas that his defense of Smith entails. Elizabeth Brooks and Caitlin Newman as Smith's two wives, Mary (who lives in Wimbledon) and Barbara (who lives in Streatham), are both vexed by Smith's disappearances back and forth on the day of his concussion, and both actors are more than equal to the challenges of their respective parts. Brooks must get double points, however, for the scenes in which Stanley is pretending to be Smith and married to Mary - who has no clue what he's doing in attempting to convince the detective he's speaking with that they are a couple. Paul Glodfelter and Craig Smith deserve kudos as the befuddled detectives - especially Glodfelter, whose Detective Porterhouse keeps delivering his sound marital advice to Stanley and Mary under the impression that they are the Smiths of Wimbledon, while Mary panics.
As Legaretta notes, there's nothing better for an actor than to hear an audience laughing, and that's exactly what audiences do with this show.
The cast is uniformly fine in their performances, although some of their adoptEd English accents are superior to others (especially in their ability to maintain them evenly throughout). If there is a true complaint with this, it is the datedness of the script when it comes to the usage of gay jokes. Little or nothing is outright offensive, but it relies on highly dated stereotyping to make plot points and excuses. If you're uncomfortable, as is this author, with such outdated humor, there will be a few rough moments for you.
This is also the first comedy at Dutch Apple in a number of years, and like most farce, there's a definite amount of sexual humor. If that offends you, be warned now and see another show, like the upcoming BRIGADOON. (There's a certain amount of slightly bawdy humor, for its age, even there, though. This is theatre, not church.) Otherwise, come to see one of the masterpieces of confusion in modern theatre, by a true master of the form. At Dutch Apple through March 23; run for your tickets by calling 717-898-1900 or visit DutchApple.com for tickets.
Photo Credit: Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre