“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
The origin of this comment is ascribed to a variety of sources including George Burns, W.C. Fields and one (or both) of “The Sunshine Boys.”
Whoever said it or wherever it came from, the current Elkhart Civic Theatre production of Paul Slade Smith’s “Unnecessary Farce,” which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House, is proof of its accuracy.
There are certain requisites for any farce, the most important being good timing. Add to this a large number of sturdy doors to slam; a cast of characters most of whom are several cents short of a dime and therefore manage to totally miss the obvious, even when it is staring them in the face; and a definitely absurd plotline that begins almost rationally and ends up so far off the rails it’s difficult to determine just who is who.
Undaunted, and under the direction of ECT veteran David Dufour, assisted by Demaree Dufour Noneman, the intrepid septet of actors who make up the cast plunges ahead with increasing gusto. Of course, several wind up in their underwear (also a requisite in farce) which slows them down not one bit!
It doesn’t take long for the laughs to start rolling in and the premise to become even more convoluted.
In two adjoining rooms in a sleazy motel (and nobody does sleazy rooms or sturdy doors — and there are eight here and all get a really good workout — better than set designer John Shoup) the setup is focused on two cops (Angie Berkshire and Mike Nichols) waiting in one room ready to get the goods on the town mayor (Rick Nymeyer) and his accountant (Libby Uruh) reported to be meeting in the other in a matter of embezzlement.
Their visual proof will be whatever is caught on tape via a hidden camera in the mayor’s room feeding images to the TV set in the cops’ room.
Simple right? Wrong!! This is farce, remember.
Add to this mix the mayor’s wife (Jennifer Ross), looking for her husband; a security agent (Keith Sarber) who may or may not be on official business; and a mysterious (?) intruder (Tony Venable) known only as the Highland Hitman, bagpiper and enforcer for the local Scottish Clan (“That’s clan with a C”).
Officer Billie Dwyer (Berkshire) is at the end of her official training and announces frequently and eagerly “Today I become a cop.” Officer Eric Sheridan (Nichols) is her reluctant partner, who has his doubts. Together they share donuts (of course!) and the inability to successfully apprehend anybody!
Accountant Karen Brown (Unruh) is not involved in the crime but is there to catch Mayer Meekly (Nymeyer) with his hand in the till. Her undercover (literally!) relationship to Officer Sheridan is revealed to Dwyer who sits next door eating donuts and watching the video feed.
Agent Frank (Sarber) is the push-me pull-you of law enforcement , especially when confronted by Highland Hitman Todd (Venable) and Mary Meekly (Ross), whose entrances are very well ill-timed.
And that’s just for starters
The gentlemen of the ensemble do well with lines and the physicality their situations demand. Berkshire and Unruh deserve applause for both verbally and physically making the most of the their characters and situations. Berkshire most especially stands out (and up!) for achieving the most hilariously convoluted semi-escape on record.
The wait for laughs and the ability to pick up the pace without losing lines are the most difficult parts of farce, as is the realization that louder does not always mean funnier.
At whatever level, “Unnecessary Farce” provides two hours (including intermission) of laughter and, today especially, there is nothing more necessary than that.
“UNNECESSARY FARCE” plays Friday through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 In Bristol. For show times and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 or on line at www.elkhartcivictheatre.orgh