When we describe something in life as a farce, we probably mean that it is a serious act carried out so stupidly 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 cluelesness 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 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 and demands.
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 opportunity.
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 “Unnecessary Farce.”
You will need to purchase your tickets though Sutter Street Theater: