BWW Reviews: UNNECESSARY FARCE Brings Necessary Laughs to Rainbow Dinner Theatre
Farce. It's an ancient and venerable form of comedy, and one of the most popular in the English language even when it's originally French, like BOEING, BOEING. From Oscar Wilde's THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST to Noel Coward's HAY FEVER, and in the bedroom farce category from NO SEX PLEASE, WE'RE BRITISH to NOISES OFF, English and American audiences tend to laugh themselves silly over partly-clad thespians slamming doors behind them… and with good reason.
Paul Slade Smith's UNNECESSARY FARCE continues in that tradition. Part traditional and part bedroom farce, it received four award nominations when it premiered at BoarsHead Theater in Michgan only a few years ago. Now it's on stage at Rainbow Dinner Theatre in the cheerfully-monikerEd Pennsylvania Dutch town of Paradise, Pennsylvania. Rainbow, which thrives on a theater menu of all comedy, all the time, continues to thrive with this production.
The play is billed as "two cops, three crooks, and eight doors," which, by my count, was absolutely correct. Those eight doors, in two adjoining motel rooms, are used, abused, and slammed nearly as many times as in the original door-slammer, BOEING BOEING, itself. As it's not entirely bedroom farce even though set in two bedrooms, the doors are put to great effect in forcing witnesses into closets, dragging the incapacitated into bathrooms, and knocking hitmen unconscious as well as in the more expected use of pairing-off in an offstage room.
The basics of great farce are mistaken identities, confusing plots, incredibly fast movement spiraling out of control, and people running on and off stage in a blur. Add a rookie cop with doughnuts, a timid veteran detective who's in love with a witness, a fraidy-cat security guard, a straight-laced female accountant in a red power suit who finds herself perpetually forced to start removing it, and an evil syndicate, and you have UNNECESSARY FARCE. At Rainbow, the rookie, officer Billie Dwyer, is played by Crystal Day Vanartsdalen. Although she starts out slowly – perhaps just slightly more slowly than the play itself – she winds up stunning the audience in the second half both with her physical comedy (a bound-and-gagged Billie attempting to escape the empty motel room is a priceless sight gag, as is her battle with a mannequin) and with her rapid-fire translation of the statement of an angry Scotsman with a Highland brogue that can't be cut with a knife.
Jimmy "2Step" Cosentino plays Billie's partner, Eric, a cop who's equally as timid around guns as he is around women. That he falls in love with the accountant and develops a spine in the process is the delight of the show. The accountant, Karen Brown, played by Rachel Blauberg, has been asked by the police to help uncover a massive theft by the city's mayor, Mayor Meekly, who wants to see her in the hotel room. She's convincingly distressed by such minor things as being videotaped nearly naked, winding up in bed with unexpected guests, and being threatened with death every few minutes, and even more convincingly attracted to Eric the nebbish, who is afraid to make the first move either to date her or to save her life.
The surefire bet in this comedy of total errors is John Delancey as Agent Frank, a security guard full of insecurity, full of bravado when nothing's wrong and prepared to die in disgrace at the slightest hint of danger. Agent Frank and his boxer shorts steal this show, and deservedly so, in the midst of all the other criminally funny activity.
Mayor Meekly and his wife Mary are comparatively minor characters in the show, despite the mayor's exalted title – for most of the show it seems that their job is to walk in at the wrong time and then leave. However, there is purpose to their purposelessness. Joe Winters is well-cast as the politician put in the midst of a major scandal, an apparent weakling who is actually one of the few people to grasp the entire political situation… though he never quite figures out what's going on around him in his motel room, partly due to the assistance of Agent Frank. Lois Sharrott as Mary Meekly performs gamely as a woman searching for her missing husband, though she is not quite as effective in her big – and is it ever big – reveal.
The dirty work of the local syndicate is carried out by the evil hit man known only as Todd, a name that strikes fear in the hearts of all… or at least of Agent Frank. Armed with an unusual set of tools, he exterminates all who cross the path of the local ethnic criminal gang – and as anyone familiar with Todd's primary weapon knows, that noise will kill anyone. His physical and verbal battle royal with officer Billie Dwyer is worth the price of the show. Played with a menacing Highland fierceness by Christopher Babcock, his surprise glass jaw… or nose… allows him to share in the comic pratfalls of the play.
The least effective things here are the somewhat slow start, Mary Meekly's secret, and a flaw inherent in the play itself - it's true that one shouldn't examine a farce any more closely than one would the contents of a sausage, but a moment's serious reflection on the disclosed identity of the criminal gang that's at work in the city moves the spectator from hilarity to incredulity. My advice is that if you become distracted and find that incredulity, the killer of farce, sets in, you must immediately focus once again on Agent Frank's boxer shorts, and all will be returned to its proper state.
It's not Moliere, and it's not intended to be; Smith wrote fluff, take it as such and laugh accordingly. The play (and a frankly delicious meal, much better than that of many dinner theatres I've visited) is well worth the price of your ticket. At Rainbow Dinner Theatre, Paradise, Lancaster County, through October 28; call 1-800-292-4301 or visit the website at http://www.RainbowDinnerTheatre.com.
Photo credit: Rainbow Dinner Theatre