KPBS AIRDATE: June 19, 1996
It must be summer; comedies are sprouting up like weeds. And the theater landscape is knee-deep in that raucous, rapid-fire, blundering, dithering, slapstick horseplay called farce.
Lamb’s Players Theatre is presenting Philip King’s 1947 mayhem, “See How They Run.” Up at North Coast Repertory Theatre, there’s Tom Stoppard’s 1984 “Rough Crossing.” They make for comical counterpoint. One is better written, the other, better performed.
King’s farce is a bit clumsy. The set-ups for misconceptions and miscommunications are transparent and predictable. The text is not particularly arch or clever, but the death of wit is compensated for by the physical pandemonium and confused identities — there are no fewer than five real and impostor clerics onstage at one point.
Lamb’s Artistic Director Robert Smyth has cast and directed cast impeccably. These are stock English characters: a stodgy vicar; pompous bishop; tight-assed, gossipy matron, even a jocular American, with a menacing Nazi thrown in.
The matron winds up drunk, while the vicar runs around with his pants off, the pajamaed bishop gets thrown in manure, and the clumsy maid juggles everyone, including the golf-clubs, at once.
It’s frankly hilarious at times, especially Myra McWethy’s corpulent, limp-limbed drunk scene, Paul Maley’s flawless pratfall, and the winking, blinking, elbow-nudging, not-so-subtle hint-giving of DeAnna Driscoll’s spunky, funny maid and Cynthia Gerber’s quick-thinking vicar’s wife. Tim West is threateningly Aryan as the Nazi, and Howard Bickle is as facile with comedy as drama.
If there are only a couple of moments of tear-streaming laughter, even in the presence of a totally brainless play, isn’t it worth it? How often do you get to belly-laugh till you cry? Go “See How They Run,” and while you’re at it, catch the Lamb’s at the Hahn doing a third return visit of the thoroughly entertaining “Boomers.”
What may not, however, be worth the trip, despite its celebrational setup, is “Rough Crossing” at North Coast Rep. Not only is this a San Diego premiere, it’s also the company’s 100th production, marking its fifteenth anniversary. Now THAT is something to crow about. But Tom Stoppard’s generally unfunny, overblown, convoluted mishmash, is not. This is yet another comical insider’s view of the theater, not one-tenth as humorous as Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” or even Terrence McNally’s “It’s Only a Play.”
The only redeeming virtue is its word-play par excellence. Stoppard specializes in little gems like “sine qua nonchalance” and dialogue such as “I worked in Paris at the Georges…” “Cinq?” “No, it’s a hotel.” Ba-duh-bum. As one of the writers in the show, a Stoppard alter-ego, aptly says about his latest work, “it reads better than it plays.”
Clever quips and puns are not enough to carry a wordy, convoluted play within a play, or a one-note joke about a playwright not being able to get a drink served to him on an ocean liner bound for New York, where he and his partner are scheduled to open a messy, half-written musical. The composer tries to jump overboard because his fiancée, the leading lady, has slept with the much-older leading man. Then there’s a tipsy waiter who can’t get his sea legs even before the ship sets sail. In every prior production of the play, the waiter has stolen the show. He’s got all the funny lines and slapshtick stage business. But Don Loper, like the rest of the cast, is trying so hard to be funny, he isn’t.
This is not director Rosina Reynolds’ best work. The casting is erratic, and the accents are as on-again, off-again as the electricity in a summer brown-out. But the celebrational season continues….
In a much different comic vein (jugular, I believe), Sledgehammer Theatre is commemorating a countywide milestone (or is that millstone?): the Republican National Convention, with two back-to-back skewerings of America by New York playwright Mac Wellman. Up now is “Sincerity Forever,” to be followed by a return engagement of the ever-popular, difficult to announce, “Seven Blowjobs.”
If you like your comedy laced with acidic social commentary, and you don’t mind foul or deconstructed language, you’re gonna love them both. “Sincerity” shows us three white-sheeted couples in Klan hoods, expounding on virtue, morality and everlasting sincerity, while admitting that they don’t know anything, they don’t know why, and they don’t really care. Meanwhile, mystic furballs, who curse everything around them, including each other, are insidiously taking over the toxic-waste dump-site, Klan-town of Hillsbottom. Then Jesus H. Christ makes an appearance to set everyone straight.
It’s well acted by a tight ensemble, well directed by Val Day, well designed and well lit, funny, and more than a little unnerving. Nobody gives a hard left jab to the right like Wellman. This one’s a knockout.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.