Believed to be one of Canada’s most-produced playwrights, Norm Foster has written dozens of plays over more than three decades. “Screwball Comedy,” now in its U.S. premiere at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, is Foster’s broadly comedic hommage to the Hollywood genre.
Set in 1938, the play contains the requisite battle of the sexes common to the screwball format, in this case between womanizing star reporter Jeff Kincaid (Lane Compton) and wise-cracking wannabe scribe Mary Hayes (Kate Whitney), an unemployed dame-with-a-brain whose prickly patter rubs Jeff the wrong way. When the two are ordered to compete on the same story — winner scores job, loser hits bread line — the sparks fly.
Their assignment, a puff piece about a society wedding, takes them to the Diddle estate, humorously realized in Jeff G. Rack’s opulently tacky set. There, they are commanded by wealthy newspaper magnate Dolores Diddle (Sharron Shayne) to dig up the dirt on Gloria Fontana (Jean Mackie), her son Chauncy’s (Niko Boles) fiancée, whom Dolores has pegged as a gold digger.
In the course of their increasingly outlandish investigation, Mary and Jeff meet a gallery of eccentrics, including Dolores’ own intended, Peter Terwilliger (wonderfully arch George Villas), and downtrodden butler Reginald (David Hunt Stafford, in a droll turn that would make Andy Dick look like a Method actor).
Foster is a skilled crowd-pleaser whose bada-bing, bada-bang one-liners elicit plenty of laughs. Clearly the performers, who include Gail Johnston and Daniel Leslie, are having more fun than the law allows, going way, way over the top in delightful performances that occasionally blur into excess.
Unfortunately, Foster’s overwritten and overlong “Comedy” has the leisurely pacing of yore and could use editing — a flaw not helped by director Howard Storm’s pacing. Storm and company should rent the Rosalind Russell-Cary Grant charmer “His Girl Friday” for a clue to the manic “oomph” that could make this retro bagatelle more palatable to modern audiences.
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Where: Theatre 40, Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends Aug. 19
Info: (310) 364-0535, www.theatre40.org