Far-ce: from the French “To stuff.”
For their 9th annual Ray Cooney farce, Hedgerow has gone back to an earlier work in this prolific playwright’s canon: CHASE ME, COMRADE. Written in 1966, this bit of silliness certainly stays true to the form; it is stuffed full with pretty much every pun and bad joke of the day (most of which holds up 44 years later). In some ways, too much so-you can see Mr. Cooney’s inexperience in that he’s perhaps “overstuffed” things, as it were.
One enters the theatre’s charming 1840 grist mill and is greeted by Zoran Kovcic’s English Country Manor set, complete with 5 doors – all of which will be run in and out of and slammed repeatedly during the ensuing 2 hours. (In farce, it’s all about the slamming doors and the tightly timed entrances and exits, you see.)
Explaining the plot would be challenging – and might spoil the fun for you. Suffice it to say, it involves a defecting Russian ballet dancer (ala Rudolf Nureyev) who winds up at the country house of an official in the Ministry of Defense (a properly pompous Bob Liga) – unbeknownst to him, naturally. And of course cover-ups, mix-ups, screw-ups and craziness ensue. The daughter of the house (very strongly played by Tara Haupt – she “gets” the British wit), her fianc�, a low-level assistant-to-the-assistant-to-the-assistant to the Prime Minister (the rubbery, Bill Haderesque Carl Smith, who also grasps Brit humor well) and her best friend-and recent dance partner of the defector (a willowy Rachel Holmes) – are the only ones who know all of the “balls they are trying to keep in the air.”
Bringing their years of experience to the company are two Hedgerow stalwarts: a spot-on Susie Wefel as the “Lady of the Manor,” who arrives – and promptly faints – at the end of Act II, and Zoran Kovcic in a wonderful turn as a starchy government security officer who ends up drunkenly prancing through the garden. Also contributing to the mayhem are Bob Meenan as the slightly batty gardener, David Polgar as the dancing defector (he does a great job with the Russian double-speak), Jim Fryer (solid as the local constable) and Thomas Robert Irwin, doing a great job as the requisite “poof.”
The secret to farce is that all involved must play it “straight” – they’ve got to believe everything they are doing. And Hedgerow’s cast has done a good job of that, they rarely play just for the laughs. Director Jared Reed has schooled them well and kept the pace sufficiently frenetic. I’m sure the company will tighten things up even more as the run progresses. Reed’s sound design, Rachel Alulis’ lights and Cathy Miglionico’s costumes all serve the production well, without overshadowing it. My few quibbles would be that some of the physical bits could be better executed and a few of the actors need to work on their diction and the consistency of their British accent (as a dialect coach, I’m a stickler about that). And perhaps they could have omitted the second intermission. I also would have liked a little more furniture, color and some feminine touches to the set.
Those are minor quibbles – most of which will work themselves out as the company gets more enmeshed in the production’s flow. All in all, it is a fun time at the theatre – just the sort of diversion needed to forget this “stuffy” heat.
CHASE ME, COMRADE!
by Ray Cooney
Directed by Jared Reed
July 14 – Sept. 12, 2010
64 Rose Valley Road
Rose Valley, PA