Right play at ‘Wrong Chimney.’
(Photo: left, Kevin Baumgartner, right, Doug Munda)
Winneshiek Playhouse opens lighthearted Christmas offering, “Sorry! Wrong Chimney!” Friday. It’s a perfect holiday choice for the small venue that WP performs so well.
In fact, the zany two acts are less about the holidays and more about a group of characters thrown together into a tornado of misunderstandings and mistaken identities. Santa Claus and chimneys just happen to be around. The action could be any holiday.
The timely aspect of producing this comedy at WP fills a current need to leave behind holiday stress and a fractured world. That’s where the magic of the theatre takes over, from the lobby to the seats and to the comfort of the hush of curtain, it’s a relief to sit back and let the play unfold, laugh by laugh.
Written by Jack Sharkey and produced and directed by Leo Sears, the comedy borders on slapstick mixed with farcical frenzy. The ultra action takes place in the ‘80s and may be considered contemporary. Sharkey spanned a prolific career in comedic plays including 83 published plays until his death in ‘92. Most extraordinary about his career as a playwright is that he funneled his passion from one script to the next. There was endless flow from scene to scene as if he couldn’t stop writing. This productive genius is a talent unto its own, inherent to few. Some fall out of the womb like this, others remain idle like the tree that falls in the forest.
‘Wrong Chimney’ likely represents much of Sharkey’s talent for combining characters at odds with each other, though there are too many titles to study to prove that. In this play, there are seven characters that throw themselves at each other by mistake, or by choice. Sometimes they don’t even know.
A few characters at the onset seem fairly normal – a young exec, his new wife, and a nosy neighbor. But throw in a shrink, a thief with a handy fiancée by his side and a confused policeman, and mayhem ensues.
High energy is the conduit of this piece, as well as delicate timing to capture every nuance of the script. Director Joey Davis takes on this challenge of the racy tempo with ease. Moreover, he makes full use of the visual blocking where the actors morph their way into a tableau, much like a cartoon with a bubble overhead. The results are that scene by scene there are never dull moments. His directing experience follows “Dearly Departed” of last season, also a comedy.
The central figure of this high energy is young bride Samantha Tuttle. Lacee Yeoman steps into the role as a jealous and easily rattled wife, suspicious of her husband’s every move. She is chatty and explosive and sometimes able to jam-pack a dialogue of fragmented hysteria. She rolls it off her sharp tongue easily.
Samantha’s exec husband David Tuttle is quite organized and calm at the onset, but becomes unhinged as events unfold. The role is played by Nicholas Cooper, a relative novice at WP but most enthusiastic to continue theatre work.
Long time WP veteran actor/director Doug Munda takes on the roll of the shrink living across the hall from the Tuttle apartment. He comments that he has grown from the younger exec role in ‘Wrong Chimney’ somewhere in the late ‘80s to mature shrink William Weldon in current production. Along the way of his many roles, he brings his velvety vocal ability and steady stage presence.
Elizabeth Ulrick as shrink’s wife Natalie Weldon plays the delightful gossip with added spice of the social lubricant wherever she stumbles upon steamy scandals – a contrast to her husband’s supposed professionalism.
And thief Kris Kriegle in common digs of mistaken identity – yes, various versions of Santa Claus – throws everyone into a tailspin. Kevin Baumgartner hypes the part and brings his natural rough edges and cynical humor to the role. His devoted fiancée Sheila by Molly Bowen further stirs up the mix.
A most confused policeman Craig Downing brings his love of theatre and determination to do whatever it takes onstage – whether staring blankly under some influence or stripping to his shorts. It’s all theatre!
Lot of laughs in “Sorry, Wrong Chimney,” at Winneshiek Playhouse, 228 W Clark St. The comedy runs Dec. 2, 3, 9 at 7:30 p.m. and two performances Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. All tickets $15. Group rates available at (815) 232-7023 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reserve at winneshiekplayers.org.