Review of Unnecessary Farce, Playhouse on Park
With Unnecessary Farce, West Hartford native Paul Slade Smith has concocted a slapstick farce that is very popular with small regional theaters like Playhouse on Park. Set in twin hotel rooms, and featuring eight doors that create a choreography of exits and entrances—at inopportune times, mostly—the play’s frenetic pace keeps the game cast of seven in frantic motion. Act One is the more breathless and compelling of the two parts, as it introduces the basic set-up and a series of increasingly funny complications. In Act Two, of course, all these shenanigans have to resolve, somehow, and that transition tends to undermine the hilarity somewhat.
The show is simply silly fun, but, with themes such as government corruption, inept cops, potentially salacious banter, dubious security agents, and easy-to-rile hitmen, it clearly partakes of a contemporary tendency to find humor in what should be serious situations, and grafts nervous humor to the cheeky bed-hopping and disrobing of traditional bedroom farces. Some of the best-orchestrated laughs here come from someone opening a door to find displayed some kind of physical, possibly sexual, tableau that makes the hapless witness do a double-take. In fact, scripting the timing of overlaps and exposures is much to Smith’s credit, and director Russell Treyz delivers.
As far as following the story goes: there’s a stake-out in a hotel where two none-too-bright officers—Eric Sheridan (Will Hardyman) and Billie Dwyer (Susan Slotoroff)—are meant to record, as video surveillance, a meeting between accountant Karen Brown (Julie Robles) and Mayor Meekly (Everett O’Neil) in the adjoining room. Meekly is under investigation for embezzling and Brown is there to entrap him. But, we swiftly learn, Brown and Sheridan are poised on the cusp of a love tryst, and that adds tensions beyond the call-of-duty variety. Add the mayor’s security honcho, Agent Frank (Mike Boland, getting lots of laughs from a straight-arrow becoming increasingly bent), Todd (John-Patrick Driscoll), a hitman from the local Scottish mafia (or “clan with a c”), and the mayor’s ditzy wife (Ruth Neaveill) and you’ve got overlapping plot points piling up faster than bodies on a bed.
Script-wise, some of the best features are Boland’s hilarious delivery of Agent Frank’s narrative about the Scottish mafia; Robles’ plucky charm in Karen’s efforts to allure, distract, mislead, and save her skin; and Driscoll’s brogue that becomes more unintelligible the angrier he gets. Sheridan’s Officer Hardyman is also well realized, the actor showing the kind of spastic body language and fast-changing reactions worthy of old-time sitcom favorites like Larry Storch or Dick York. Slotoroff and Neaveill both do flips you have to see to believe, though the latter’s character’s transformation could be played for bigger laughs, and O’Neil’s mayor is affable but not really comical.
And that’s really the only criticism I can imagine leveling at this diverting romp: it could be funnier at times, particularly in the second half when exposition and explanation start to slow things down a bit too much. Even so, there are great visual gags throughout, such as Slotoroff—whose dexterity is remarkable—shimmying, gagged and bound, from door-to-door, and split-second switches in who has the upperhand. The title, playing off the phrase “unnecessary force,” even plays its part as a punchline.
Farce may be unnecessary, but a good laugh can be hard to find. Unnecessary Farce keeps ’em coming.
By Paul Slade Smith
Directed by Russell Treyz
Scenic Designer: Christopher Hoyt; Sound Designer: Joel Abbott; Lighting Designer: Aaron Hochheiser; Costume Designer: Kate Bunce; Properties: Pamela Lang
Cast: Mike Boland, John-Patrick Driscoll, Will Hardyman, Ruth Neaveill, Everett O’Neil, Julie Robles, Susan Slotoroff
Playhouse on Park
November 2-20, 2016