'Unnecessary Farce' contains hilarious farce essentials

 Mrs. Meekly (Jen Anderson), from left, Todd (Terry Haller), Agent Frank (Paul Weir) and Eric (Matthew Scales) play cat-and-mouse with their firearms in a scene from Lake Country Playhouse's "Unnecessary Farce."

Mrs. Meekly (Jen Anderson), from left, Todd (Terry Haller), Agent Frank (Paul Weir) and Eric (Matthew Scales) play cat-and-mouse with their firearms in a scene from Lake Country Playhouse's "Unnecessary Farce."

By MARILYN JOZWIK

Published May 19, 2018


“Unnecessary Farce” contains all the necessary farcical components for a successful comedy.

And Lake Country Playhouse, under the direction of Mike Crowley, has done an admirable job with the Paul Slade Smith show.

The comedy here is not so much in the words, but in the action, which includes characters ending up in all sorts of compromising situations – a bound and gagged police officer, two cops trying to subdue a suspect which ends up looking like a ménage a trois, people running around in their underwear and a Scotsman in full regalia playing the bagpipes.

And in true farce fashion there are two side-by-side rooms for the audience to view (think of “Lend Me a Tenor”), each containing four doors, which is always fodder for foolishness and fun.

Feeling the sting

The show opens with two cops in a motel room, having set up a sting operation to get a confession from the town’s mayor (Jim Baker), whom they suspect of embezzling government funds. A meeting has been arranged between the mayor and his female accountant in one of the motel rooms and a video camera is set up by the cops to record and view the proceedings next door.

But from the very start you see how the whole operation is doomed to failure – the accountant (Emerald Klauer) and one of the cops – Eric (Matthew Scales) – have a hot and heavy affair going and can’t wait to hop in the sack before the meeting with the mayor. Problem is, the video is running and Eric’s partner, Billie (Breanne Brennan), sees everything.

It’s all hilariously downhill from there with the inept trio as complications way beyond their ken arise, including a visit to the accountant’s room from Agent Frank (Paul Weir), who foretells the arrival of Todd (Terry Haller), a Scottish hitman who plays the bagpipes before murdering his victims – if they haven’t already died or killed themselves from the sound.

The action is fast and furious as the police, looking more and more like Keystone Cops, get into one jam after another, ending up in closets or bathrooms or barely clothed.

Opening doors

In perhaps the funniest bit of the whole show, Haller’s Scotsman displays such a thick Scottish accent when he gets angry that almost no one can understand him, causing him to get even angrier. With his long beard and firm grasp of the comedy and timing, Haller is an absolute delight.

This is a first-rate cast overall, with some of the trickiest situations and dialogue in all of farcedom. Often conversations are carried on simultaneously in both rooms, which is mostly handled well by this cast. The eight doors are also a big challenge, with timing on entrances being critical for the comedy to unfold. Opening night was a tad sluggish, but I suspect that will improve as the show progresses.

I especially enjoyed Brennan’s portrayal of Billie, who loves being a cop though displaying virtually no aptitude for being one.  Brennan is fully engaged, using facial expression, physicality and superb comic nuances to give her character loads of appeal. Her “backup bagpipe bag” bit is a tongue-twisting gem that she pulled off superbly. I love her casual approach with lines, like when she says to the distracted Eric while she wrestles with the big Scotsman, “I could use a little help here, partner.”

Scales and Klauer are also wonderful as the hot-to-trot couple, keeping their randy characters on edge throughout as they meet and flee disaster. Klauer is a picture of total frustration and hilarity as her accountant character tries to convey on the hidden camera to the cops next door that she’s in danger by signaling that she’s hot. A hilarious bit. Scales doesn’t miss a beat, handling every bit of comedy expertly – from cajoling his boss on the phone to impersonating a Scotsman.

Being played

Weir as Agent Frank brings another wonderful performance to the stage. Weir has proven adept at both comedy and drama in his many area portrayals. His Agent Frank is perhaps the most difficult portrayal, a character never quite sure if he’s being seduced, played or both.

Baker’s mayor adds a low-keyed, slightly bemused demeanor nicely contrasting the frenetic pace of the others. Jen Anderson, who portrays his wife, slides from concerned spouse into her sinister character effectively. I love how she segues into her dark side with the words “before I stop being so cheery and pump you full of lead.”

Ron Ehrlich’s set is awash in beige with identical Motel 6-type rooms, a nice, neutral palette for the colorful characters. Sturdy, well-working doors are also important in this sort of show and they all performed perfectly.

Just a heads up to the audience: Be sure to listen to Todd’s line as he leaves the room at the end of the show. It’ll be the play’s title.

If you go

Who: Lake Country Playhouse

What: “Unnecessary Farce”

When: Through June 3

Where: 221 E. Capitol Drive, Hartland

Info/Tickets: lakecountryplayhousewi.org/262-367-4697