:Laughter Necessary Element In ECT Farce

“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.

Unnecessary Farce  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INUndaunted, 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.

Unnecessary Farce  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INAdd 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.

Unnecessary Farce Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INAgent 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

Comic Tour De Force Must-See At The Barn

They say it takes a village to raise a child but there’s proof this week at The Barn Theatre that it takes only two men to create an entire town!

The men in question are Scott Burkell and Joe Aiello, actors (and quick change artists) extraordinaire, returning to the Augusta, MI playhouse after a far-too-long absence.

The town is Tuna, Texas where residents are about to celebrate the 4th of July Tuna High School reunion.

Put them all together and you have “Red, White and Tuna,” the final (to date) part of the trilogy that began with ”Tuna, Texas” and expanded into “A Tuna Christmas” before landing on the national and local celebrations that brought back the wild and wooly Tuna-sians for another hilarious go-round.

Between the two actors, 20 citizens created — and recreated — by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jason Williams, here again, renewing old feuds and reviving old loves and even finding a missing husband returning from outer space with a special power.

It took about 30 seconds (after the first gust of laughter receded) to remember why the Burkell-Aiello team is so greatly missed, as a duo or solo. Watching them work, no matter what the character — young, old, male, female — is a master class in acting.

Even in the most outrageous — gun lover Didi Snavely, frequently suicidal reunion queen Joe Bob Lipsey, octogenarian swinger Pearl Burras, animal lover Petey Fisk, Smutsnatchers president Vera Carp, almost-divorced Bertha Bumiller, her taxidermy artist son Stanley, pregnant daughter Charlene and eager fiancé Arles Struvie, former cheerleaders Inita Goodwin and Helen Bedd, to name only a few — there are touches of humanity beneath the layers of absurdity that allow them to make a connection with each audience member.

Red, White and Tuna  The Barn Theatre Augusta MILocal news flashes on radio station OKKK,plus an off-stage cat that thinks it’s a dog, bridge the required brief changes.

It’s constant laughter with a recurring lump in the throat.

Under the direction of Brendan Ragotzy, the intertwined story plays out before Michael Wilson Morgan’s versatile set design with each segment lit appropriately by lighting designer Molly Lampers.

Not surprisingly, wigs and costumes play more than a passing part in the tight transformations which keep up the pace set by the versatile performers. Hans Friedrichs is costume designer with wigs undesignated.

There is no listing for the company members who served as quick-change dressers for the two stars, but they took a well-deserved bow at the final curtain.

It is a sure thing that each audience member left the theater chuckling with his or her favorite character(s) still in mind.

To paraphrase Didi Snavely, “If you can’t get yourself laughing in a small town in Texas, you ain’t really trying.”

In Tuna, Texas you never have to try!

“RED, WHITE AND TUNA” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For reservations call (269) 731-4121 or on line at www.barntheatreschool.org


'The Full Monty' Is All In At Wagonn Wheel

The 1997 British film “The Full Monty” was set in Sheffield, England. The 2000 musical of the same name is set in Buffalo, N.Y. Nothing is lost in translation, especially as presented this week as the Wagon Wheel Theatre’s Encore Show.

Problems and friendships, it seems, are universal.

Under the direction of Scott Michaels, who also is on stage in a few “cameo” roles (check out his “audition”), the story of six unemployed and increasingly desperate men is the same in any language — but it’s a lot more fun when set to music.

Led by Matthew Janisse as Jerry Lukowski, the other members the eventual sextet (no pun intended!) are Scott Fuss as Jerry’s best buddy Dave Bukatinsky, Danny Burgos as Harold Nichols, Jason Brown as Malcolm Macgregor, Keaton Eckhoff as Ethan Girard and Chuckie Benson as Noah (Horse) T. Simmons.

Each has his own reason for finally agreeing to participate in the one-night-only Chippendales-style show. Basically, of course, the obvious incentive is money. Having seen the enthusiastic reaction of the female population to a show by the strictly male touring group, Jerry decides that putting on a show of their own is the quick way to make a good amount of cash.

Adding “the full monty” — taking it ALL off — is something not offered by the Chippendales and is a spur of the moment inclusion to help flagging ticket sales.

The Full Monty  WagonWheel Theatre Warsaw INWhen it comes right down to the wire, will they or won’t they is the question of the evening. Getting there in the WW production includes everyone — especially the audience — in having two hours of fun.

While the focus is on the men, behind each one of them is the woman who, knowingly or unknowingly, provides the reason to move.

Standing (or not) by their men are Jennifer Dow as Pam Lukowski, Jamie Finkenthal as Georgie Bukatinsky, Sarah Jackson as Vicki Nichols, and Catherine DeLuce as Malcolm’s invalid mother. Ethan and Horse get their support from Jeanette Burmeister (Kathy Hawkins), an old vaudevillian who is the rehearsal pianist and chief critic.

Jerry’s primary reason is young son Nathan (Parker Irwin), who will be lost to his dad if mounting childcare payments are not paid.

There are at least two full showstoppers, not counting the “Let It Go” finale and “Michael Jordan’s Ball” which transitions basketball to choreography.

The Full Money WWagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INOne sure stopper is from Benson who throws down his cane, forgets his arthritis and delivers a rousing “Big Black Man” audition; the other is from Hawkins who leaves her keyboard to quiet the whiners by delivering “Jeanette’s Showbiz Number.” A close third is Jackson’s ballroom salute to wifehood describing ”Life With Harold.”

Solo or ensemble, male or female, the voices in this cast are solid and the dancing is the same, both areas in which we have come to expect the best at WW.

Only slightly off notes: The woodsman beard (?) on Janisse and the lack of a really big belly on the excellent Fuss, whose character hangup is being too obese to de-clothe.

In the pit (literally), the nine member orchestra under the direction of keyboardist/conductor Thomas N. Stirling is once again a major plus in this production, making every measure of David Yazbek’s score a pleasure.

Production manager Mike Higgins, who has two small roles, also designed the set, literally a metal maze of steps and lofts. If you’re sometimes blocked, view-wise, wait a few lines and Michaels’ staging will bring everything into focus again.

As always, costumes, wigs, lighting and sound fill script and atmospheric requirements beautifully.

“THE FULL MONTY” plays through Sunday in the theater at 2515 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For reservations, cll (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagon wheelcenter.org