KPBS AIRDATE: July 01, 2005
Summer has always been a time for frothy theatrical fare. And light I like well enough. But mindless, or silly, or supremely over-the-top I have a problem with. And that’s pretty much what’s going on in the Lamb’s Players production of “Cold Comfort Farm.” Cold comfort, indeed.
The premise is fine; Paul Doust set out to adapt the classic 1932 novel of Stella Gibbons, a work that skewered all those dark, dour English dramas set in dingy, gloomy rural homes and peopled with miserable loonies and eccentrics. Too bleak, grim and melancholic. But his adaptation has a smug, self-satisfied, relentless sense of a look-how-clever-I-am mentality. This is the fourth-wall-breaking wink-nudge variety of comedy, where the leading lady tells what she’s about to do, and then what she did, resorts to a smarmy narrator when necessary and self-righteously comments on the action all the way, discussing plot points in a highly self-referential style. It’s cute for a few minutes, but it continues all through the lengthy, 2 ½ hour evening.
The acting approach is of the ‘I can yell louder than you’ variety, with a bevy of arcane English accents from all over the map. There are few characters here – only caricatures. These aren’t weird people; they’re something out of the Addams Family by way of Jane Eyre, with a mad matriarch in the attic.
It’s the early 1930’s, and prissy Flora has come from London to her relatives’ drafty, unkempt cottage in Sussex, to rediscover her roots and determine her rights, whatever that means. Once she meets this bunch of country bumpkin loony-tunes, each harboring a secret, she sets out to set everything right and set everyone on the path to his or her dream. It’s preposterous but not humorous. In the second act, which takes place in the garden of the classy neighbor next door, everyone is blessedly toned down, and some performances are actually amusing, most notably, Deborah Gilmour Smyth. One of the most entertaining parts of the evening is watching the change of Mike Buckley’s scenery, the stagehands cavorting while rotating the cottage to reveal the garden, and vice versa. So many talented people onstage, but it feels like such a waste of effort and energy. And yet, one can always find highlights.
Sarah Zimmerman, who got her start at Lamb’s as a youth, is back from her foray in New York and on Broadway, and she’s a delightful presence as Flora, no matter how unctuous the lines she has to speak. There’s the distinct sense here of trying to make the musty hip. It isn’t. Robert Smyth and his troupe can do a great deal better. Personally, I’d rather stay home and read a dark, melancholic novel – English or otherwise.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.