Sunday, January 3, 2016

Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre looks into the New Year with marital double vision

Cabbie-bigamist attempts to digest news of his troubling heroics.
"Run for Your Wife" pushes to the outer limit the peculiar ability of farce to show people using extraordinary cleverness to extricate themselves from dumb situations of their own making.

Taxi driver John Smith has inexplicably allowed himself to be talked into marrying an attractive fare, apparently concluding that keeping the new marriage hidden from the wife he already has can be managed easily. His heroism interrupting a mugging late one night upsets his schedule of keeping both wives satisfied and unsuspicious.

From that brief touch with fame, thanks to the news media (in 1985 London, as now everywhere, drawn to the sensation of the moment), all hell breaks loose. Beef & Boards' production of Ray Cooney's play, which opened Saturday night at the dinner theater, never stints on extracting the most from a three-ring circus of misunderstandings and short-lived cover-ups.

On a brightly lit unit set with plenty of doors — the architectural feature most useful in this genre —
Mary Smith works to uphold monogamy.
the action shifts between the two apartments John Smith (Eddie Curry) calls home. Characters walk in on each other smoothly: if they don't notice the other's presence, it's pretty clear they are not occupying the same space. If they are, there is often enough stunned surprise to animate a whole scene.

As hard as Smith works at both his job and his double-sided domestic life, his friend and neighbor Stanley Gardner is, in contrast, afflicted with a ravenous appetite for leisure. He is thus available to become ever more entangled in the cat's-cradle of lies Smith is forced to construct to fool not only his wives but also a police detective from each of the precincts he inhabits.
New wife Barbara Smith just wants her scheduled time.

This tests Smith's ability to think on his feet and the audience's ability to follow it all.  There was little doubt that a cast displaying this much energy and expressiveness, keyed to Curry's manic performance, would ever allow their characters to deviate into sense.

The first act had me laughing so hard I nearly blinded myself with goofy tears. In the second act, Cooney's unstoppable wit and fascination with his own ability to concoct new misinterpretations started to wear me down. Under J.R. Stuart's direction, all of it gathered such momentum, however, that the play rolled ahead like a whiz-bang juggernaut.

In Act 2, sexual innuendo got knottier and more perplexing, heightened by the "out" flamboyance of Sean Blake as the upstairs neighbor at Smith's other flat. Yet no amount of Cooney's occasionally labored nonsense stayed B&B's couriers from the the swift completion of their appointed rounds. Layering on a little extra "business," an irritating habit in some B&B comedies, never seemed too much for "Run for Your Wife." It amounted to a useful corrective to overthinking the plot.

Two London police detectives square off as they plumb the mystery of John Smith.
As original wife Mary Smith, Sarah Hund was at first the picture of self-contained propriety sorely tried by her husband's strange behavior.  An overdose of medicine prescribed for Mary's husband, who was injured in the mugging melee, helped push Hund's performance over the edge.  I didn't find her crazy act fully believable, though by the time it occurred, I'll admit I was a little overwhelmed by the implausibility of the whole scenario. As Barbara Smith (wife #2), Erin Cohenour was statuesque, ardent, and more than a little nonplussed by unwelcome exposure to her husband's other life.

Jeff Stockberger poured every ounce of resourcefulness into the role of Stanley Gardner. His performance embraced vocal and physical caricature, virtuoso twitches, pratfalls, eye-popping changes of expressive direction and double takes. He and Curry once again showed how readily they feed off each other in representing the outsize B&B brand.

Cooney has given the show a little extra zip in not making the two detectives Tweedledum and Tweedledee.  Variety was tidily embedded in the two portrayals: A.J. Morrison, as Detective Sergeant Troughton, was more the straight arrow investigator, while Adam O. Crowe as his counterpart, Detective Sergeant Porterhouse, had more flexibility built in, being comfortable donning a yellow apron to make tea as he attempts to get to the bottom of all the shenanigans.

But, then, "Run for Your Wife" is like Bottom's dream — it hath no bottom. Peering into its deep shallowness merely induces a delightful vertigo that  B&B's madcap players fully exploit.