By Karen Isaacs
Farce can seem like an easy genre to write – after all you don’t need to worry overly about motivation or backstories for the characters. Keep the doors slamming, the sexual innuendos frequent, the physical comedy coming and the slapstick timing down pat, and you should have a winner.
But not so fast. Farce is not easy to write – at least not outstanding ones. Too often we see tepid, inane plays that try to be farces.
Unnecessary Farce now at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford through Nov. 20 is between succeeding brilliantly and falling on its face, like so many of the characters do.
Even though this play has had numerous productions in various small and community theaters, it doesn’t get out of the so-so category.
Why? Lots of reason – a good farce needs a very plausible premise and the characters need to be probable. The set up and conclusion both need to be quick – taking too long to set the plot up or drawing it out at the end are easy failings.
Unnecessary Farce revolves around two incredibly inept police officers on a stake out at a local motel in a small town. In the adjoining room, a 30-something, attractive accountant is to meet the mayor because she has found major discrepancies and missing money since she took over the job. A camera and microphone is in the room; the goal is to get the mayor to say something incriminating.
Let’s just say that things don’t go as planned. Here is where some of the issues with this play occur. It takes too long to set up the plot and the early dialogue is both stilted and obvious – doughnut jokes, etc.
One of the running gags is that the accountant is sex-crazed. Early in the play, she is getting it on with the male police officer which is caught on tape. No one can figure out how to erase it. Of course, not only does the mayor see it but inadvertently many other things are caught on tape. Soon she taking off and putting on her blouse regularly, sometimes as the “clue” for the officers to come into the room and “rescue” her. They always seem to not be paying attention.
When the mayor arrives, he seems sweet and incredibly naïve; he could play Santa at any department store, but before the two can talk, his security officer enters and demands to “sweep” the room. Of course, he doesn’t find the camera.
Let’s just say that the complications and implausibilities pile up. Soon we are told about a criminal ring that is led by Mac, the enforcer “The Scotsman” who plays the bagpipes before killing his victims, and more. The eight doors in the adjoining rooms open, shut and get locked with regularity. People are visible one minute and invisible to the camera the next because of the doors. Yes, there’s even a joke about “coming out of the closet”.
Of course, it all gets straightened out – or so it will seem if you don’t think too much about it.
Is it fun? Silly but yes, particularly if you’ve had a cocktail or glass of wine beforehand. The cast fulfil their stereotypical roles with panache and director Russell Treyz keeps everything moving.
If there is a standout in the cast, it is John-Patrick Driscoll who plays Todd aka “The Scotsman” – he maintains a passable Scottish accent which becomes incomprehensible when he gets angry – a running joke in the play.
Susan Slotoroff shows off her physical comedy skills when her character, the inept police officer, Billie gets bound and gagged.
This was one production where the large thrust stage at Playhouse on Park really worked to its advantage. Scenic designer Christopher Hoyt can create two almost life size adjoining motel rooms. They have the bland uniformity of such rooms with pedestrian furnishings and lots of beiges and browns.
How you respond to Unnecessary Farce will depend in large measure to how you feel about farces in general; if you usually enjoy them despite their silliness, then this will be a fun evening in the theater. If, on the other hand, you response to farce is tepid or you only appreciate the outstanding examples of the category – Noises Off for example – then you enjoy this less.
It is at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Rd, West Harford, through Nov. 20. For tickets visit Playhouse on Park or call 860-523-5900 x10.