Plano — When you’re in a foreign country looking for a bite to eat, a café with a crowd is a good bet. They probably know something.
It works for theatre, too. Theatre Britain’s production of Ray Cooney’s Out of Order may not be in a foreign country, but there is certainly a crowd. And what the crowd there knows is that it’s a great place for farce.
Ray Cooney is the contemporary master of the form with outlandish characters woven into complicated scenarios that are carefully constructed to raise the stakes to bewildering heights. It’s the bouffant version of comedy. On the page, it’s as filling as a meringue, but, properly performed, it’s as breathtaking as any great acrobatic exhibition. Director Kevin L. Ash’s Out of Order at Theatre Britain is no exception.
Following the pattern that goes back to Feydeau, the evening centers on sex or rather its prospects and consequences when sought on the sly. At the Westminster Hotel, London (Theatre Britain, remember?), junior minister Richard Willey (Bryan Brooks) is about to enjoy the amours of secretary, Jane Worthington (Janelle Lutz), who is neither his wife nor his political party. The first complication to their illicit activities can’t be described here, partially because it is so inventive and partially because of the mechanics of farce.
The characters have to want something enough that their reaction to its interruption, however illogical is believable. That decision in turn leads to more impossible situations with even worse solutions. The audience plays along with an investment usually reserved for sports finals. Giving a plot point away would be tantamount to telling someone the score of a game they have on DVR.
But some things are so universal their inclusion will come as no surprise. Of course, the lovers’ others will become entangled in the hokey pokey of hotel doors. Pamela Willey (Rebecca Page) and Worthington’s Ronnie (Jeff Wittekiend) will inevitably increase the already intense shenanigans of the initial couple. Playing host to the frantic frivolities are the scandalized Manager (Robert San Juan), the gamely Italian Maid (Sheila D. Rose) and a very opportunistic waiter (Abram Rankin). And if that weren’t enough, there’s a body played by Ivan Jones. Why you need an actor to play a body can be left to your imagination, but rest assured it’s in the name of comedy.
Everyone in the cast deserves recognition as this show is an almost orchestral effort of entrances, pratfalls and rejoinders. Special mention, however, must go to whoever triggers the faulty window to come crashing down. The timing was so precise and the running gag so integral, you’d be forgiven for wanting it to take a bow.
Driving the action is, of course, the first philanderer: Willey, played a bit over-confidently by Brooks. The stunning Lutz in garters and stockings understandably outstrips him, literally and figuratively, in the opening scenes. Soon the circumstances goose the character and actor to the proper gear, though. It isn’t really until the put upon assistant, Pigden, has the stage to himself that we glimpse a different potential for the show’s hilarity. Sykes creates an outlandish limping bit that gives him free access to audience’s laughs. It’s a cloudburst in the midst of a downpour but it’s worth keeping a weather eye out for Sykes in future productions. While everyone is making you laugh, he’ll make you laugh harder.
It’s a particularly satisfying experience to be among a crowd who is getting exactly what they’ve gathered for. Theatre Britain is like going to a winning teams’ watch party.
Remember what that was like?