Prince George's Little Theatre opens its 53rd season by bringing laughter to Bowie Playhouse with playwright Paul Slade Smith's "Unnecessary Farce."
The company's choice of this 2006 whodunit comedy (which is making its Baltimore-Washington area premiere) underscores PGLT's commitment to fun. Audience members can expect to be amused by improbable situations where bumbling characters resort to disguises while dealing with cases of mistaken identity and increasing mishaps.
Devoid of brainy pretensions and usually lacking in witty dialogue, the standard farce is mostly physical, with frantically paced action. The comic cacophony is heightened by slamming doors jarring our senses and catching us up in a building frenzy. Arriving at a chaotic climax requires a disciplined ensemble of actors who engage in confused duets and soaring comic solos to delight the audience with seemingly spontaneous silliness.
PGLT's production of "Unnecessary Farce" moves well beyond ordinary comedy through the direction of Keith Brown, who has been involved with the company since 1979. Brown orchestrates action in two adjoining motel rooms, where characters hear what is happening in the other room and form mistaken conclusions. Meanwhile, the audience sees and hears everything in both rooms, giving them a full appreciation of the bumbling characters.
Choreographing the action of seven characters speeding about the stage is a formidable assignment, not to mention having to transform the dialogue pouring from both motel rooms into a coherent comic symphony. But Brown is up to the task.
Brown also serves as set designer, creating two identical motel rooms. He has a skilled team assisting him, including construction crews, sound and lighting designers, a costume designer and dialogue coaches.
Essential to this production's success — and a major reason to catch a performance of this show — is the seven-member cast that brings alive this zany tale of inept policemen and corrupt politicians.
Officer Eric Sheridan has been assigned a new partner, Officer Billie Dwyer, in a sting operation staking out a presumably corrupt mayor. A video camera is set up in the adjacent motel room to capture Mayor Meekly when he meets with accountant Karen Brown, who is cooperating in the sting. The operation is complicated by the mayor's bodyguard, Agent Frank, who has his own problems. Feared Scottish killer Todd has a ritualistic agenda that includes a bagpipe solo before committing each of his homicides. Rounding out the cast is the mayor's wife, Mary Meekly, who pops in and out of the hotel room in search of her often-missing husband.
The action opens with Mike Larson as Sheridan answering a phone call from the chief after sending Dwyer (Elsbeth Clay) out on assignment. Larson delivers a multifaceted comic portrayal of bumbling Sheridan, striving to succeed and failing in several crucial aspects of the sting operation, from instructing gun-shy Dwyer in handling a weapon to later clumsily responding to the advances of accountant Brown, with whom he is instantly smitten. The comedy level rises as Sheridan's frustration mounts.
Clay's plucky Officer Dwyer is endearingly comic as a bumbling rookie proud to be on her first sting operation despite being poorly prepared. Dwyer, who is claustrophobic, repeatedly gets tied up and tossed into dark closets. Clay's comedic skills soar when she serves as translator for Todd, the Highlander hit man, who grows nearly incomprehensible as his agitation increases.
Colonial Players and Dignity Players favorite Shirley Panek gets to show off her comic chops in the role of Brown, the accountant assigned to meet the mayor and have him admit — on videotape — that he has embezzled $16 million. If something goes wrong, Panek's Brown is instructed to comment on the rising room temperature — a signal that triggers several instances of disrobing. This ruse sends the wrong signal to Agent Frank, who happily responds to Brown's perceived advances.
As Agent Frank, actor Eric Small adds to the comic frenzy, especially as he struggles with Todd.
As Todd, Jim Adams delivers what is required of the fearsome hit man who commands our attention with his powerful voice as he dramatically recites his Scottish incantation. Amusement grows as Adams' brogue thickens to incomprehensibility, until the audience is in hysterics when Todd nods in agreement with Officer Dwyer's translation of his words.
PGLT veteran Ken Kienas delivers a cool Mayor Meekly, who never loses control despite the surrounding madness. Rachel Duda presents several delightful surprises as the mayor's wife.
"Unnecessary Farce" runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Sept. 1. Tickets may be ordered online at pglt.org or by calling the box office at 301-937-7458.