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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Theater review: Unnecessary Farce

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 12:15 PM

Once you find Hough High School out in the wilds of Cornelius, all your problems with the new Davidson Community Players’ production of Unnecessary Farce will be over. What the gray auditorium lacks in warmth is more than outweighed by the coziness of the hall, which only seats around 600. If John “Clay” James’s set design, studded with no fewer than eight doors, can hold up through the remainder of the run, we’re home free.

We’re spending the night in two adjoining hotel rooms, where two nervous and inept cops have set up a sting operation, hoping to catch the town mayor on camera spilling the beans on a huge $16 million embezzlement. Complications ensue. And then those complications feverishly compound. You’ll likely appreciate that Paul Slade Smith’s script isn’t just a farcical tangle of two-timing lovers and hyper-enflamed jealousies. Mayor Meekly lives down to his name, so rookies Eric Sheridan and Billy Dwyer are actually solving a mystery as we go along.

In this police procedural, Eric has already lost his objectivity — and probably his virginity — to the pretty accountant who is planted in the wired adjoining room to entrap the mayor. Before she can sit down and begin questioning hizzoner about the books, a squinting bodyguard with a Secret Service demeanor shows up to make sure the room isn’t bugged. Toss in the mayor’s snoopy wife and a bizarre Highland Hit Man who must don a kilt and play the bagpipes before fulfilling a contract, and you’ll easily anticipate that those eight doors — leading to closets, to bathrooms, to the outside hallway, and between the two rooms — get a vigorous workout.

Factoring in the cops’ ineptitude, Slade’s script is a beautiful fit for community theaters that may be fielding inexperienced actors in these key roles. We get pretty lucky in the stakeout room with T.J. Nelson as Eric and Lizzie Schwarz as Billy. Both are nearly as amped and outrageous as veteran farceurs would be, Nelson excelling at Eric’s shy and nervous bumbling while Schwarz shines best showcasing Billy’s self-defense shortcomings. It’s when we get into the bugged room that we encounter the more polished and outré performances.

Though I don’t always understand why, Abigail Pagan shuttles deftly between professional primness, hormonal urgency, and melodramatic paranoia as Karen Brown, the sexy accountant. Bill Reilly isn’t all that terrifying as Agent Frank, the mayoral bodyguard, but he’s a perfect embodiment of Men in Black cool and efficiency. He also contrasts wonderfully with the white-haired Roger Watson, as mild and inoffensive as your grandma’s milk cow as Mayor Meekly.

The utmost spheres of outrageousness aren’t reached until Philip Robertson arrives with his satchel as Todd, the Highland terror. Slade’s most screwy shtick has nothing to do with his kilt or his bagpipes: It’s this speech problem Todd has when he loses his temper that requires group therapy. Industrial strength silliness here, and Robertson makes a bodacious meal of it. Anything can happen after Todd’s expostulations, which is about the best way I can explain Kelly Dowless’s actions as the mayor’s missus.

Timing and pacing count for so much when some of your actors are getting their cues from inside closets or getting knocked silly by a hostile door. Almost everything clicked perfectly on opening night, despite the fact that Todd’s beefeater headgear arrived a mere 15 minutes before curtain. It’s quite obvious that Jill Bloede, in her first outing at DCP, sweated many more details than that odd furry hat. Weeks of patience — and likely hair-pulling — went into a precision that will likely become even more impressive now that this energetic cast has been validated by a roaring audience.

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