BWW Review: LYING IN STATE at Town Players Of Newtown
On Saturday, May 19, I saw the farce LYING IN STATE, at the Town Players of Newtown, in Newtown, CT. This comedy by David Hyer, although intended to be current at the time it was written, seems specifically to be set in the late 1990s, in that the internet was a common household reality, but cellular phones and social media were not yet as mainstream.
While this is a political comedy, David Hyer was wise to write this story in such a way that never addresses any actual issues, nor mentions the political parties or leanings of anyone. Therefore, regardless of whether you are Republican, Democrat, third party, or independent, there is nothing in this show that will politically ostracize you, or inflame your anger. A further sign that this show is set in the late 1990s is that we don't see the extreme levels of vitriolic detestation towards political opponents that the mainstream media and social media have provoked in modern America. There is one mention of a border wall, regarding Mexico, but due to the time this play was written, that was either an ad-lib from the theater, or a reference to an idea that existed long before Donald J. Trump was even a presidential candidate.
The set depicts the inside of a funeral parlor, with a closed coffin in the back. Entrance and exit doors are in both the stage left and stage right back corners. The size of the theater itself makes every seat a good one, helping the entire audience feel involved with the show.
The story revolves around the sudden and unexpected death of Ed, an incumbent state senator whose campaign manager, Herb (Rob Pawlikowki), thought had little chance of winning the reelection. Ed's death, however, suddenly has made Herb feel as if his political party now stood a chance, and that Ed could be remembered as a hero.
Ed's ex-wife Edna (Deborah Carlson) is at the funeral home, mostly recovered from a bullet wound that Ed accidentally inflicted on her, four years earlier. Herb believes that Edna would make a great new candidate to run in Ed's place, on the grounds that she represents women. Edna is resistant on this idea, more concerned with acquiring a bugler to play at the funeral.
Ron Malyszka plays Ed's brother, Harry, who is great with comedic one-liners. The majority of the comedy in this production comes from the one-liners, whether delivered by Harry or the other characters. There are enough comedic one-liners in this show that make it a practical guarantee that every audience member will end up laughing out loud at some point during the production.
The highlight is during a scene when they decide to run Ed, deceased, as their candidate, and are working on a campaign slogan. With a comical reference to "See Spot Run," the characters start brainstorming ideas, playing off each other and reacting to each other. It is at this moment where the stage chemistry between the cast is the strongest, and the comedy is therefore the funniest, complete with lively reactions and back and forth. The key to great stage comedy is not merely good writing and delivery, but also the reactions of the other characters on stage. It is in this moment where this cast is at its best as a cohesive unit.
It is clear that the goal was to win an election, but merely for the sake of winning. They wanted to bring down the opponent with scandal, but had no clear goal as to who would be the new candidate and what that new candidate would stand for. It is a fascinating political commentary on the reality that we often see among people who today are more concerned with badmouthing the candidates they oppose, than speaking highly of the candidates they support. Character assassination of opponents becomes a bigger strategy than promotion of one's own policies.
LYING IN STATE is scheduled to continue to run at the Town Players of Newtown, Fridays and Saturdays, May 25, 26, June 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 8:00 PM, Thursday, June 7 at 8:00 PM, and Sunday May 27 and June 3 at 2:00 PM. For tickets, please go to http://www.newtownplayers.org/.