A Decade of Ditziness—Hedgerow’s 10th Annual Ray Cooney farce hits the stage

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

In 1988, my mom took me to England and then Ireland to see where my grandfather was from.  We decided to take in a show during our brief stay in London, so we went to the half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square.  There were tickets for a large variety of shows—oddly, many of them Broadway musicals.  I said “Let’s see something we could only see here.”  We bought tickets in the “stalls” to Run For Your Wife—that was my introduction to British farceur Ray Cooney.  Two Into One, running now until August 7th, is Hedgerow’s 10th trip to the Ray Cooney canon.  His wildly convoluted plots and snappy one-liners have proven to be very popular with the 88-year-old company’s summer audiences.  You laugh yourself silly.  

Rebecca Cureton and Zoran Kovcic star in TWO INTO ONE at Hedgerow Theatre through August 7. (Photo by Rick Prieur)

No other type of play brings with it as much history as does Farce.  The genre dates as far back as the 14th Century in Europe—but the works of Plautus during the Roman Empire also had a part in its formation.    Italy’s Commedia del Arte is probably the most recent “parent.”  Then the French got a hold of the concept and added their own touches: bolder sexual innuendo and wordplay, etc.  Believe it or not, the uptight Brits love the form and have put their unique humorous stamp on it.  It’s these versions that American audiences are most familiar with—many of which have been hits here.  I mean, if they weren’t funny, Hedgerow wouldn’t have done an annual production for the past decade.

By definition, a farce involves mining comedy out of incredible and improbable situations.  Though it relies heavily on stock characters and stereotypes, the key to not having the proceedings devolve into burlesque is that the director and actors have to create genuine human beings at the core of the whole situation.  They need to be reacting believably to this unbelievable situation; they need to get the audience to buy into the whole implausible set-up.  And make it funny—at a breakneck pace.  Not an easy task.  Trust me, I know.

Under the deft direction of Jared Reed, Hedgerow’s cast is up to the job.  I’ve admired Reed’s talents as an actor and director for, among other things, his attention to the little details.  And that is evident here as he guides his company of players through the twists and turns of the story.  There were many wonderful little touches that added to the overall enjoyment of the play.  I won’t even attempt to break down the plot for you—it really isn’t important anyway.  Suffice it to say there are lots of lies, false identities, quadruple entendres, sex and door slamming (six of them this year).  Our hero—and I use the term loosely—is a nebbishy secretary to a member of Parliament who is forced to assist his boss in trying to pull off an assignation with a hot young (married) secretary.  Poor George Pigden winds up in his skivvies in one suite with his boss’ randy wife while said boss is trying to get it on in suite next door.   Because, of course, that is the only room this London hotel has available.   

Richard Willey, our horny politician (gee, there’s a far-fetched character), is played by Shaun Yates—a new face on the Philly theatre scene.  Yates bears a striking resemblance to Robin Williams—while busting out some Three Stooges moves.  He was very entertaining as he was trying to get his girl in bed without having a John Edwardsesque scandal.  He’s got good comedic timing but he’ll need to watch he doesn’t get carried away.  Keep it real and the audience will laugh.  The adorable Kristina Psitos makes her Hedgerow debut as Jennifer Bristow, the saucy secretary that Willey is lusting after.  Ms. Psitos fills out her towel beautifully (a requirement of the British sex farce)—and she’s a talented actress too.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her in future productions.

Our pol’s lovely wife, Pamela Willey, is played by Rebecca Cureton, a Hedgerow acting fellow.  Ms. Cureton wonderfully captures the British sensibility of the stuffy upper crust, making her transformation into the neglected minx all the more amusing.  She does some wonderfully calibrated reactions to some of the plot twists as things start to unravel.

Hedgerow’s “utility infielder” Susie Wefel, bats another one of the park as the ultra-conservative member of Parliament Lily Chatterton.  She nails that “Fuh-fuh-fuh,” stiff-upper-lip, stodgy Brit stuff perfectly—garnering laughs with each entrance and exit.  Another small, but important, role is Viktor Wronski, beautifully played by Jeff Berry, another Hedgerow fellow.  Think “Manuel” on Fawlty Towers—he’s a hoot.    The ensemble is rounded out by solid performances from Bob Liga (back for his third year) as the suspicious hotel manager, Anna Rebmann as the hotel receptionist and Maria the maid, and Dave Polgar as Edward Bristow, Jennifer’s clueless actor husband.

No—I’ve saved the best for last.  Hedgerow mainstay Zoran Kovcic has the perfect sad sack demeanor in the role of George Pigden.  George is the one who has to keep all the various lies straight—sometimes coming up with things on a moment’s notice.  Liken the main character in one of these plays to the guy who would spin the plates on top of the poles on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Remember that act: the guy would be rushing back and forth to keep about a dozen plates spinning so they don’t go crashing onto the floor.  Well, Kovcic pulls it off, while giving us a believable schmuck who’s caught in an impossible situation.  He never goes too far and lets himself become a caricature.  The younger members of the cast should take notice and learn.

On top of his spot-on performance, Mr. Kovcic has designed a wonderfully clever and serviceable set.  With some smooth transitions by a well-oiled crew, the Hedgerow stage converts from the lounge/lobby of the hotel to the two side-by-side suites.  Solid tech support was again served up by John Tiedeck (lights), Cathie Miglionico (costumes) and Ms. Wefel (props).  Reed and Tiedeck collaborated on the great sound design.

So, beat the heat—and go “Looney With Cooney” at Hedgerow this summer.

by Ray Cooney
Directed by Jared Reed
June 2 – August 7, 2011
Hedgerow Theatre
64 Rose Valley Road
Rose Valley, PA
(610) 565-4211

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