BWW Review: LIE, CHEAT AND GENUFLECT by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore at the Carrollwood Players
Think Some Like it Hot mixed with Nuns on the Run, and you'll get an idea of what is in store for you with the Carrollwood Players' latest farcical venture, Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore's LIE, CHEAT AND GENUFLECT. This is the type of silly show that will have audiences in stitches, where the plot goes out of control, and characters wind up doing despicable things for money. Throw a crying baby around and ultimately put him on a serving tray? Why not? Characters hiding under couch covers and being sat on? Of course. The story more than meanders in Act 2, and at times loses itself along the way and becomes exhausting, but this is mainly a script issue. The production at the wonderfully intimate Carrollwood Players theatre is very funny, thanks mainly to director Leanne Germann and her talented cast.
The storyline sounds simple: In order to avoid being put out of commission by a gun-toting loan shark named Pizza Face Petrillo, brothers Billy and Tom Buckle must scheme to get the money they owe him. So when their grandfather passes away, knowing that the old man didn't leave anything to them in his will (they're scoundrels), they come up with what they think is a winner of an idea: Have Billy dress up as a nun and impersonate their cousin who is in line of receiving the vast majority of their grandfather's inheritance. To say that much mayhem follows is an understatement.
LIE, CHEAT AND GENUFLECT is a laugh riot to many. But it better be, because it's farce with a typical slamming door or two. Here, either someone is tied up in a closet or is lost in the wine cellar. It's a mess of a story, and the script asks us to suspend our disbelief too many times for its own good. But don't worry, it's quite an entertaining mess that will make you smile ear to ear, especially with this group of actors playing conniving idiots.
In the role of Billy, Bo Smith is nothing short of hilarious; it's the type of performance that everyone has loved for decades and decades (imagine Charley's Aunt with a habit donning the Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez impersonator). It's quite a workout role for the young actor--changing from Billy to a nun and back to Billy constantly--but it pays off. He's like a zany Nathan Lane (except when he cries, which is closer to Stan Laurel). As his mustachioed cad of a brother, Tom, Dan Allmond is splendidly wicked, showing no remorse for any of his misdeeds or actions. His patter with Smith's Billy is priceless.
Kenneth Grace as the lecherous lawyer, Robert Fryburger, gets plenty of laughs. Michael Jeffrey is towering as the mobster, Pizza Face. And Adriane Falcon as his wise-cracking, gum-chomping "secretary" (in the same mold as Lesley Ann Warren in Victor/Victoria), is a scene-stealer; you only wish she had more stage time.
As the drunken maid who likes to kiss anything (even probable corpses), Penni Willen is appropriately obnoxious, wonderfully grating and so much fun to watch. I love how she applies lipstick before administering "the kiss of life." Alicia Spiegel does well as the Girl, and Lisa Morrison makes her self known as Jane.
But make no mistake, it's Bo Smith's show.
Thank goodness director Leanne Germann is at the helm here. She certainly knows how to direct comedies, especially those with nuns. Look at her resume as an actress: Nunsense, Nunsense II: The Second Coming, Nuncrackers, Nunsensations and Meshuggah Nuns. So she does an admirable job here and gets all the laughs that are in the script (and a few I'm sure that are not). The show is nicely paced for the most part, especially Act 1, and during the matinee when I saw it, the mostly older audience laughed uproariously. They stayed with the show to the very end, guffawing constantly and groaning appropriately. Sometimes the audience was as wild and vocal as if they had been watching a matinee of East Lynne.
Chelsie Smith's ornate set works quite well, beautifully rendered, including even a JMW Turner painting for art buffs. The door to the closet got loose the day I saw it and almost came off the hinges (it actually did come off, I heard, the night before, proving that there's nothing quite like live theatre). But the door was fixed during the intermission, so no harm done. Costumes were fine if unremarkable, and Joshua Eberhart's lighting and sound were appropriate.
The show itself, like so many community theatre farces, doesn't always connect. The storyline keeps straining for laughs, even at the expense of characterization. Farces like this always seem like extended Three's Company episodes, and they're oftentimes written ham-handedly, everything being forced and unfunny. The good are very good (Noises Off), and the bad are the worst of the worst (too many to list here). LIE, CHEAT AND GENUFLECT fits somewhere in the middle. The script is fine, but many of its allusions will be lost on younger audience members (two of my favorites, Paul Winchell and the Amazing Kreskin, for example).
But the show does offer a delightful mean-spiritedness that I enjoyed: The scene where a baby is trying to breast feed Billy-dressed-as-a-nun is quite a sight to behold. And Tom's devil-may-care attitude to all the people whose lives he was ruining is refreshing in its proud amorality.
If you think you'll be offended by a baby being tossed about (you know it's a doll, but suspension of disbelief plays an important part here), just know that the audience, almost a full house when I saw it, was laughing heartily and happily. "It's so much fun," I overheard an older woman tell her friend at intermission. "It's what we need in this day and age." I couldn't have said it better myself.
LIE, CHEAT AND GENUFLECT runs through January 28 at the Carrollwood Players. For tickets, please call (813) 265-4000.