BWW Reviews: Windsor Jesters' FUNNY MONEY a Tale of Big Bucks and Moderate Yucks
Theatre: The Windsor Jesters
Location: L.P. Wilson Community Center, 499 Matianuck Avenue, Windsor, CT
Production: by Ray Cooney; Direction and Scenic Design by Christopher Bushey; Lighting Design by John Hasty; Costume Design by Nicole Bushey. Through October 19; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Tickets $13-$16, call 860-688-1526 or visit www.windsorjesters.org.
The Windsor Jesters, Connecticut's oldest continuously operated community theatre, pre-dates not only our community companies, but all of the Nutmeg State's professional companies. That is quite a feat for a volunteer-driven organization and is worthy of applause. It's too bad that many towns and cities across the state aren't more supportive of these local treasures. More often than not, the community theatre productions that I attend play to something approximating one-third to half a house.
When I arrived for my matinee performance of Funny Money, the L.P. Wilson Community Center parking lot was cheek to jowl. I was happy to see the Jesters pulling a big audience. Unfortunately, the huge crowd was there for a little league sporting event. The theatre was mostly empty and this is a shame because for a comedy to work optimally, it needs a robust, rowdy audience to drive the laughs. Come on, Windsor, get it together and support your local theatre troupe!
Funny Money, Ray Cooney's British farce, promises to be a blissful comedic romp. The fact that it falls shy of this goal is due in part to the script and in part to the Jesters' production. Much like Peter Bogdonavich's hilarious film farce What's Up Doc?, matching bags (or in this case, briefcases) are mixed up. Mild-mannered and middle class nerd Henry Perkins (Nate Strick) discovers that his attache case has been inadvertently swapped for with one containing 3.25 million pounds. Laughter ensues.
It's not a case of, "Will Henry or won't Henry return the money?" That is decided before Henry reaches his home where his frantic wife Joan (Lorrie Bacon) is prepping for her husband's birthday dinner party. The big question is whether or not Henry will get away with his plan to make off with the money or will two cops, a cabbie and a mysterious passerby foil his plans to live a life of luxury.
Cooney has most of the requisite things in place for farce: plenty of doors to slam, mistaken identities, high stakes, and an absurd plot. Where things bog down with the script is that it gets, at a point, so convoluted and talky that I began to cease to care how it all will work out. Cooney throws false aliases on top of false aliases in a bid to be wonderfully loopy, but they become burdensome. Director Christopher Bushey doesn't help matters by not pushing the pace harder. When you think of farces and screwball comedies like His Girl Friday, the speed and snappy repartee allows a writer to shove a lot of language into little spaces. And with potentially unlikable lead characters, Bushey has an even bigger problem.
Part of the charm of What's Up, Doc? is that, ultimately, the audience roots for Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal to end up together. With Funny Money, Henry starts out dishonest and stays dishonest. Joan starts out shriek-y and ends up drunk. Henry's willingness to ditch everyone he loves for money means that we have to really, really like the character enough to forgive him. Nate Strick, a capable actor who does his best with the role, cannot seem to vault past the challenges Cooney has placed on a character that calls for someone like a Rowan Atkinson or a Ricky Gervais-type.
Similarly, Lorrie Bacon is saddled with a tough part to play. The majority of the first act finds her pushing herself vocally, whining and screaming at her fairly horrid husband, the doorbell, the phone, etc... The second half of the first act and all of the second act, finds Bacon a looser lush and much easier to enjoy. It is clear that Strick and Bacon, along with the whole cast, are working hard and having fun onstage.
Fortunately, the rest of the characters make for more pleasant company. As Betty and Vic, the Perkinses' besties, Summer Echelson and Eric Michaelian are quite winning. The detectives, Bill Mullen (as the tricky Davenport) and Bruce Showalter (as the straight-laced Slater), are very funny in their respective parts. Troy Walcott is a trip as Bill the Taxi Driver whose trip is thwarted at every turn.