‘Unnecessary Farce’ a necessary farce at Timber Lake.
By Sue Langenberg
Fourth show already, “Unnecessary Farce” opened last night at Timber Lake Playhouse following other hits, “The Music Man,” “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “A Chorus Line.” The 52nd season of the summer stock theatre in the boonies is going by at breakneck speed.
This slamming door farce was written by most talented New York actor/playwright Paul Slade Smith and debuted in 2006. Rather than a glittering Broadway or off-Broadway debut, the show premiered in a more humble setting at the BoarsHead Theater in Lansing, Michigan.
Uniquely a product of the Midwest, “Unnecessary Farce” is also one of the few truly American so-called bedroom comedies. The genre generally finds roots on European stages where ridiculous actions and reactions are shallow entertainment. Sex, money, secrets and slamming doors are at each close call of discovery.
Returning guest Lili-Anne Brown has directed musicals at TLP including “Cabaret,” “Sweet Charity” and “The Buddy Holly Story” and assisted “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Ragtime.” She serves as artistic director of Bailiwick Chicago and made her off-Broadway debut last year as Tia in original play, “A Twist of Water.”
This is Brown’s first farce to direct, however, and she admitted to being terrified at the onset; terrified of delicate timing, speed of action without rushing, yet trusting the actors to feel the precision of each line. Moreover, that all eight doors slam correctly at each entrance and exit. Comedy is serious business, after all, but she pulled it off successfully.
It began as a suggestion for TLP to produce this particular farce after she saw one of the first productions at Peninsula Players in Door County. The project was tabled for one reason or another until this season.
Eight doors and seven unlikely characters in an unlikely plot throw themselves at each other to keep the laughs going for two acts. There are two bumbling cops, an insecure security guard, a Scottish hit man, an innocent mayor, un-wifely wife and cool-headed female who loses complete sexual control – all within the set of adjoining cheap hotel rooms. Nothing could possibly go wrong!
Hannah-Jo Weisberg is well-cast as female cop Billie Dwyer who is absolutely clueless about police skills, but nonetheless enthusiastic to serve and protect her way around with her trusty water pistol. Her body language changed effectively from mood to mood to prove her character’s ridiculousness.
Alex Johnson handily assumed the role of partner cop Eric Sheridan who had no professional cool throughout, especially with his sudden sexual liaisons and accompanying jealousies over character Karen Brown, played by Sarah Larson. Most clothes came on and off with feverish abandon as Larson effectively threw herself in and out of beds, closets and other doors. She proved her comic ability above and beyond her romantic role in “The Music Man.”
Rapidly becoming a TLP favorite after his role in “The Music Man” is character actor Cody Jolly as Todd. Whatever previous shouts and slams in this farce, Jolly arrested the tempo with a slick entrance and ease of attitude as an ultimate tongue-in-cheek hit man. As the layers of smooth moves unraveled his anger, the Scottish accent thickened until Jolly’s red-faced blast became an undecipherable performance of fits and starts, a high moment and remarkable work.
Jolly’s exchange with Brandyn Day as Agent Frank was also a highlight as the dialogue traveled up and down an octave or so to further showcase absurdity. Matthew C. Webb as bumbling and innocent Mayor Meekly was believable as was appropriately frumpy Erica Stephan as his wife Mary Meekly.
The plot-less plot is so confusing that all characters don’t know where to aim their guns in the end. It hardly matters, however, because it was all about laughter.
Necessary show “Unnecessary Farce” continues at Timber Lake Playhouse of Mt. Carroll and runs through evening July 27. All evening performances are 7:30 p.m. Matinees are Saturday July 20 at 3 p.m., Sunday July 21 at 2 p.m. and Wednesday July 24 at 2 p.m. Group rates available. Tickets go fast, and TLP is a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road, in the boonies of Mt. Carroll. Contact the box office at (815) 244-2035 or www.timberlakeplayhouse.org for more information.