THEATER ‌ Suite Nothings 

At Footlight Theatre, unmovable objects meet a resistible farce

click to enlarge Wes Walton, Carl Bunch, and Kate Stirling in a maddening bit of madcap
  • Wes Walton, Carl Bunch, and Kate Stirling in a maddening bit of madcap

Out of Order
Footlight Players
Running through April 21 at 8 p.m.
Footlight Theatre
20 Queen St., 722-7521

Deep breath: let's see if we can get through this. Conservative Junior Prime Minister Richard Willey (yes, Dick Willey) meets Jane, a secretary from the Labor Party, for a liaison at a London hotel, where they discover a dead body in their room. Richard calls in his assistant, George Pigden, to help carry out a plan in order to avoid a multilayered scandal. Nurse Gladys Foster, who attends to George's mother, hunts George down to discover exactly why he isn't coming home. Jane's husband, Ronnie, has followed his wife, and Richard's spouse also pops by for an unexpected visit. Throw in a nosy hotel manager, a foreign maid, a money-hungry hotel waiter, and a whole lot of slamming doors, and you've got yourself a farce, my friend. The lies mount, and everyone pretends to be someone else. George is passed off as a brother, Jane is passed off as a wife, and Ronnie is passed off as a cousin. Are you keeping track?

It doesn't really matter. Playwright Ray Cooney loses track of it all, too. The Footlight Players are staging Cooney's 1990 play Out of Order as part of their 75th anniversary season, but it feels as if it could have come from Footlight's early years. The performances are mostly good, and Sam Evans' direction keeps things moving, but even the liveliest, tightest of productions would feel like it's come off the tracks in the second half as Cooney's top-heavy script spirals out of control.

The play's a prototypical British farce from an old hand at the genre, but it's not as well written as, say, Alan Ayckbourn's work. Cooney's play almost feels like a parody of a farce, becoming ever more outrageous until it's simply no longer funny. Cooney's play loses its steam halfway through, devolving into a mess as the characters continue to concoct newer, dumber excuses and lies, digging increasingly deeper holes for themselves.

Eventually, we begin to feel a little taken advantage of: just how long does this Cooney fellow expect us to keep sitting through all this? As a character gets passed off as someone else's relative for the umpteenth time, or as one more person gets clobbered by the same falling window, even the predictability loses its humor. Finally, after the audience has invested so much into watching the play, the last-minute conclusion is over too swiftly and conveniently, even for a farce.

Yet in spite of the script's flaws, Cooney does provide some laughs, and Footlight's ensemble serves them pretty well, except in some cases, where the timing — the single most critical element of any farce — is a bit off.

Brian Wulfekotte is nearly perfect as the blustering Pigden. His red, sweaty face and awkward mannerisms bring to mind John Cleese's classic Basil Fawlty. Wes Walton is at his best when Richard's sarcasm erupts like a geyser. Walton places barbs in his character's rebuttals, jabs, and derision; at other times, his character seems dry and without personality (granted, Richard is a politician).

As the women in Richard's life, Kate Stirling and Terry Bell-Aby (as Jane and Pamela, respectively) turn in committed, lively performances. Scott Cason as the Waiter delivers a nice, not-so-subtle lift of his eyebrow at the hijinks of the guests as he manages to get himself paid off to keep quiet and abet the offenders.

Fortunately, there are enough giggles to be had from Footlight's production to make it worth catching. As long as you can accept the play for what it is, tolerate the same jokes repeatedly, and try not to think too much about its plot holes, you can enjoy some good performances and some entertaining sight gags.


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