When we describe something in life
as a farce, we probably mean that it is a serious act carried out so
stupidly that the only reasonable reaction to is to laugh. In theater, a
play identified as a farce nearly always means a madcap romp with
mistaken identities, absurd actions, and nonstop physical comedy; often
with slamming doors as characters narrowly miss each other, one going
out a split second before another enters. As in life, the characters
take themselves completely seriously, which make their stupid acts
hugely funny for an audience if done well.
This sort of farce is on hilarious
display at Sutter Street Theatre for the next few weekends in their
presentation of Paul Slade Smith’s “Unnecesssary Farce.” Timing,
especially the entrances and exits, is essential to farce, and director
James Gilbreath keeps his wonderful ensemble cast moving at breakneck
speed throughout the show.
The play takes place in two
adjoining motel rooms, each with four doors including those connecting
the rooms, where police have set up a sting operation. They plan to trap
the mayor, played with seeming cluelessness by David McHenry, into
revealing his embezzlement of city funds when confronted by the town
accountant. The accountant is played, frequently in her underwear, by
sexy Alison Lewis. The mayor and the accountant are to meet in one
bedroom in which police have hidden a television camera while the cops
observe and record the evidence in the adjacent room. Eric (Rich
Kirlin), is in charge of the surveillance. He is afraid of guns and is
so inept he can’t get dressed while receiving orders from the chief
without hopelessly tangling himself in the telephone cord. His hapless
assistant, rookie cop Billie (Jana Holm), is not much help, but the
monitor she is watching does give her an arousing show when Eric and
Karen, the accountant, take the opportunity while waiting for the mayor
to show up to rip each other’s clothes off to share the passion they
have apparently kindled the night before.
Soon they are joined by Agent Frank,
the mayor’s terrified bodyguard (James Van Eaton), who warns Karen that
the mayor has been threatened by the Scottish mafia. Frank sees only the
partially unclad Karen in the bed and soon strips to his silver briefs
and climbs into bed with Karen—and Eric. Of course at that point the
mayor finally shows up.
Also complicating the action and
insuring that nothing succeeds, not the sex, not the mayor’s entrapment,
not the surveillance, is the arrival of two additional characters.
Stephen Miller is Todd, the kilt-clad hit man for the Scottish mafia.
Todd informs his potential victims that he never kills anyone without
first playing a tune on his bagpipes. His brogue becomes so
incomprehensible in moments of stress that cop Billie, the only one who
can understand him, is forced to translate as he issues lengthy threats
The other complication is the
mayor’s wife (Therese Sorrentino), who wanders from one room to another
in search of her husband, barely missing all of the action, which she
seems to find bewildering.
One surprise leads to another, and
characters are revealed to be other than they appear. The funniest
scene, in my opinion, happens near the end when four characters (I won’t
tell you who) are holding guns on each other and perform a sort of
standoff dance over and around one of the beds.
As I hope I have made clear, the
ensemble cast works perfectly together with impeccable timing
throughout. I must, however, single out two actors who made me laugh the
most. First is Stephen Miller as the incomprehensible Scottish hit man.
His biggest problem is that he keeps getting knocked unconscious by
doors opening in his face. My other favorite is the totally uninhibited
Alison Lewis as the oversexed accountant who jumps on Eric at every
For a totally fun live-action
experience of farce at its most farcical, leave the kids at home and
laugh your head off at Sutter Street Theatre’s very necessary