Stage Struck Review

Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years

Tag Archives: farce

“Rumors” Has It… Mostly… in Whittier

The men of Whittier Community Theatre's "Rumors" use hand games to try to cope with one very odd anniversary party

The men of Whittier Community Theatre’s “Rumors” use hand games to try to cope with one very odd anniversary party

In the long and impressive line of theatrical comedies by Neil Simon, few really qualify as farces. To be a farce the story isn’t really about rounded people, but about the silly juxtaposition of persons in compromising situations with unforeseen events. For Simon, the comedy was usually more organic, even when the results were very silly: the people and their personalities underscored the humor. Indeed, as his career progressed, it was much more about the people than the laughter and the plays became more real, more nuanced, and more powerful.

However, Simon did write one genuine, door-slamming, mistaken-identity-filled farce. Now that play, “Rumors” is at the Whittier Community Theatre, and the results are – for the most part, anyway – just as funny as they should be. The actors play the over-the-top characters with great energy and style. The setting is as fraught with exhausting drama as it should be, and the results are very funny. If, on occasion, the pacing of the comedic lines slows a bit, that is something that can be overcome.

Four couples arrive, in stages, at the home of a fifth couple having an anniversary celebration. Mystery ensues, as the help has disappeared, as has the woman of the house, and her husband is found upstairs, offstage, stunned and bleeding from a gunshot wound. As the first couple to arrive tries to cover for the disaster, gradually aided or thwarted by the rest as they arrive, the misconstructions, fabrications and frustrations wrap the eight guests in a series of ridiculous situations. And then the police arrive.

This whole silliness is led in every way by Jay Miramontes and Michelle Pedersen as the Gormans, first uncovering the mystery then balancing hair brained schemes with careful coverups, aided on occasion by more than enough vodka and a real sense of performance polish. Kerri Malmgren and Jason Falske provide the next comic element as a calm society woman and her husband, so obsessed over the accident which has damaged his brand new Mercedes the house’s mysteries are just an additional frustration.

The warm and homey Cleta Cohen and Richard DeVicariis provide the practical element, comparatively nonplussed by the silly situation and focused on more basic needs of the rest of the thwarted party-goers. Michael Moore and most particularly Lindsay Marsh provide yet one more layer as the politician who can’t be associated with the obviously developing scandal and his paranoid wife devoutly sure her husband is full of scandals anyway.

Under the direction of Justin Patrick Murphy, this silly piece starts just a bit slow, but seems to rev up as the stage fills. Every once in a while someone, particularly Moore, seems to wait just a bit long in a play whose lines must consistently appear with whipcrack speed, but the comedy definitely wins out and the characterizations are strong and a lot of fun. Kudos to Amy Miramontes for gathering clothing just right for the kind of evening these characters are expecting and the kind of people they are. The costumer doubles, along with Andy Kresowski, as the stern and precise police duo who show up trying to sort out the craziness.

In short, this “Rumors” is a lot of fun. I admit to being rather a fan of farces, as a particularly carefree way to slough off the pressures of the everyday. This one is definitely worth a look, and, in the hands of this company of players, stays satisfyingly silly to its unpredictable but equally funny end.

What: “Rumors” When: Through June 13, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 7 Where: Whittier Community Theatre at The Center Theatre, 7630 Washington Ave. in Whittier How Much: $15 Adults, $10 seniors (62+), juniors (18 and under), students and military with ID Info: (562) 696-0600 or http://www.whittiercommunitytheatre.org

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Farce with Force: “What the Butler Saw” at the Taper

L-R: Paxton Whitehead, Sarah Manton (background) and Charles Shaughnessy in Joe Orton’s “What the Butler Saw” at the Mark Taper Forum.  [Photo: Craig Schwartz]

L-R: Paxton Whitehead, Sarah Manton (background) and Charles Shaughnessy in Joe Orton’s “What the Butler Saw” at the Mark Taper Forum.
[Photo: Craig Schwartz]

Farce, as a theatrical art form, is often seen as simply a ridiculous chasing about – fun and funny, but not particularly intellectually derived. Indeed, many typical farces are. Still, on occasion the ridiculous backdrop of a farcical situation can be used to make pointed, even cutting remarks about society at large, all in the guise of silliness.

One example of this is the Joe Orton classic, “What the Butler Saw,” now at the Mark Taper Forum. Though the net result is guffaw-inducing, the underlying messages are actually far more savage. This 1968 piece, produced first only after its author’s murder, examines with great bitterness the state of government’s encroachment on people’s lives, using British Health’s psychological services as a vehicle. Now, though some of its material starts out feeling a bit dated from a feminist (or even “aware of rape culture”) perspective, it still wins one over as just that: a mocking send-up of bureaucracy.

This aided by an absolutely splendid cast, whose timing – thanks in part to director John Tillinger – proves so tight that every bit of physical comedy works exactly as it should, and whose characterizations allow for just enough empathy to keep the audience connected.

Charles Shaughnessy plays a psychologist running a British in-patient mental hospital. Estranged from his rampantly sexual wife, he had developed a casting couch approach to his kingdom – an approach he is about to try out on a new and innocent young secretarial applicant. Frances Barber plays his wife, whose latest encounter with a bellhop has led to a possible blackmail, if her husband can’t hire the male bellhop as a new secretary instead of the innocent young girl already on the couch. How to make that happen pushes her toward the scotch bottle.

Paxton Whitehead, as the doctor’s pompous superior, come to inspect the hospital, provides some of the greatest comedy as he half-hears, misdiagnoses, and sparks the craziest parts of the play, all the while thinking of how to publish his outrageous “discoveries” to achieve greater fame. The chemistry between the three makes the piece work, aided over and over again by Sarah Manton’s gentle but determined young secretary, Angus McEwan’s completely gonad-driven bellhop, and Rod McLachlan’s authoritative, then bemused police sergeant.

James Noone’s brightly lit, glaringly open office space, graced with the necessary multitude of openings, sets the tone for the inspired farcical chasings about. The requisite doors slam, as mistaken identities, hidden agendas, and the senior doctor’s silly imaginings and misinterpretations create greater and greater havoc. Laughing out loud is almost guaranteed, from the beautifully executed physical comedy as well as the sheer silliness of the plot twists. Indeed, once a certain amount of rather disquieting exposition is out of the way at the start, the piece inspires roars of laughter over and over.

Which is all to say “What the Butler Saw” – the non sequitur of the title notwithstanding – proves highly entertaining. Still, and this would fit Orton’s “Angry Young Man” time period, it is also an bitter commentary on vapid human connection, and the misuse of power. When you step back you begin to see it, delivered though it is with the syrup of belly laughs. And though the play may be 36 years old, that dark undercurrent still rings disturbingly true.

What: “What the Butler Saw” When: Through December 21, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays Where: The Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles How Much: $25 – $70 Info: (213) 628-2772 or http://www.centertheatregroup.org

Let’s Get Noisy! A Noise Within Has “Noises Off”

Stephen Rockwell has an unsettled moment in Noises Off at A Noise Within


In what may be a very sensible move, A Noise Within, still settling into its polished new home in Pasadena, has resurrected a production done two times previously in their old Glendale space. Michael Frayn’s classic bit of silliness, “Noises Off” is a farce inside a farce. Done well, it guarantees belly laughs. Top drawer actors like those in this ANW production get a chance to chew the scenery with abandon, and show off the very timing their characters are supposed to lack. As such, it’s a sure crowd-pleaser and for many an old friend well met.

The story involves a rather shaky provincial theatrical company preparing and performing in a tour of a little sex comedy. The characters include an aging actress with questionable memory, and a collection of has-beens, second-raters and bimbos tied together by a director on his last nerve. We walk them through their final rehearsal, then follow them on the road as personal upheavals in the company “family” make performing the play each night more and more complicated.

The delight at ANW is, quite simply, the quality of the acting and the precision of the direction which lets the best of this silly play shine. Most of this company was involved with the two previous productions, and step into the parts with a familiarity and polish which allows every timing gag and every bit of outrageous silliness to shine.

Deborah Strang hits the right combination of befuddlement and intensity as the aging Dolly, whose production this is, and whose romantic entanglements fuel much of the backstage upheaval. Michael Salazar creates the perfect Garry – a man with the most imprecise conversation on record. Lenne Klingaman bustles about beautifully as Poppy, the competent actress and company gossip. Emily Kosloski gives the detached and by-rote bimbo, Brooke, the perfect tone.

Stephen Rockwell’s emotionally fragile leading man, Frederick, and Apollo Dukakis’ pleasantly earnest, hearing impaired, recovering alcoholic, Selsdon, add their timing and character precision to the general hysteria. Jill Hill and Shaun Anthony move much of the comedy forward as the comparatively non-ego-motivated backstage staff. Geoff Elliott becomes the binder to all of this as the desperately exasperated director who tries to hone this comedy into something saleable, all the while dreaming of his next gig directing Richard III.

Elliott, who along with Julia Rodriguez-Elliot actually is the director of “Noises Off,” has managed that impressive, pinpoint timing which makes this silly play so beloved by actors and audiences alike. One false move, one slow door or late action would blow the comedy apart, but one needn’t worry. The result has the precision of a clock, allowing every bit of comedy to come through.

“Noises Off” is one of the silliest of a silly genre. Each of its three acts offers yet one more layer on the humor, so don’t assume that once you have seen the first act you know what is going to happen. Rather, just sit back and enjoy. You’ll rarely see it done as well.

What: “Noises Off” When: through January 15, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd in Pasadena How Much: $42 – $46 Info: (626) 356-3100 or http://www.ANoiseWithin.org

Classic Farce Triumphs: “Noises Off” hits La Mirada

Lori Larsen and Rona Benson star in LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS & MC COY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT'S production of NOISES OFF, now playing at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada.

Of all the variations on the classic farce I have seen over a long career, only two can, on stages large and small, with professionals or gifted amateurs, be guaranteed to be fall-out-of-your-chair funny. Every time. One is “Noises Off,” now receiving an especially polished, richly satisfying performance at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts as part of the McCoy Rigby Entertainment Series. Once again, I was laughing until tears ran down my face. Believe me, this is rare.

The tale could be seen as a theatrical inside joke, except that everyone gets it. A second-rate provincial touring company is pulled together in small-town Britain to perform a modern French-style farce. From the final dress rehearsal it is obvious the beleaguered director cannot control the mental vagaries, the interpersonal squabbles, or the occasional idiocy of his performers. From this foundation, one follows their tour as the production and the performance gradually fractures under these interpersonal stresses. Still, saying all of that does not go half way toward explaining the absolute delight of precision timing and spectacularly physical comedy which ensues.

This play works if it becomes a truly ensemble piece, with nobody standing out above the rest. Director Richard Seyd has collected one of the most experienced casts in McCoy Rigby history, and it shows in every wave, every slammed door, and every moment of the slapstick which works so exquisitely well. It also shows in the ensemble spirit.

Lori Larsen’s memory-challenged veteran actress coping with a litany of prop moves sets the stage. Matthew Miller’s exquisitely vague leading man and Annie Abrams’ oblivious vixen accent the fun. Leland Crooke, as the aging veteran, Maura Vincent as the gamely competent performer and James Lancaster as the actor who does just fine as long as someone hides the bottle complete the onstage acting crew. Joe Delafield’s overworked and innocent carpenter and Rona Benson’s wallflower stage manager add particularly to the backstage mayhem, while Bo Foxworth rages and fumes as a director struggling between passion and despair as his show fumbles along.

One possible issue for someone who has not seen “Noises Off” enough to wait for the comedy to build is the necessary element of any French-style farce. Before the funniest portions of the story can develop, one must set the scene. The first act of this show, as per the form, shows that initial dress rehearsal, introducing the characters and their particular bumblings, and letting one know what the director expects the play within this play to look like. This is necessary for the second act’s humor, when it all goes terribly, comically awry. Sadly, on the night I saw this show, a significant number of audience members left before that hysterical second act, missing the reason to see this show at all.

John Iacovelli’s delightful, reversable set adds much to the general craziness. Rose Pederson gives the costumes an update, and manages in one case the odd combination of total coverage and intended titillation. It’s quite a feat. Indeed, this proves one of the most well-crafted versions of this play I’ve seen in a long time. Go see it and laugh unabashedly. I certainly did.

What: “Noises Off” When: Through October 16, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada How Much: $35 – $50 Info: (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310, or http://www.lamirada theatre.com.

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