Ray Cooney’s hilarious 1983 classic British farce “Run For Your Wife” has the potential to go terribly wrong, and not just for the the taxi driver who is leading a double life with two wives he tends to in two different areas of London.
Yes, he gets away with it for some time because of his irregular work schedule. But the jig is up when he winds up in hospital, unknowingly tips off the authorities to his personal scam, screws up his delicate schedule, drops the ball, and otherwise sets in motion the riotous comedy that unfolds.
Though it’s London’s longest-running comedy to date, even in its day, the play was criticized for being a homophobic male fantasy with one-note characters in which the women are merely dumb props. And in 2018, one might imagine a script like that, despite being full of fun double entendre, would be doomed for a savvy theater-going audience.
But in profoundly adept Director Hans Friedrichs' hands at The Barn Theatre, “Run For Your Wife” is something else altogether. It retains the hilarity presented by the tensions and the complications of the situation and eliminates all the politically incorrect pitfalls by transforming them, with delightful and subtle irony, through a heightened vision of the period and all its implicit queerness thanks to extraordinary attention to detail. In other words, every part of this production is shot through with unexpected nuance, from brilliant performances from its all-star Equity cast to the colorful and gaudy set dressed with authentic ’80s props to the wigs and costumes that are sight gags in and of themselves, to balance and draw more from the script’s broad strokes than lesser-talented folks could possibly imagine.
This eight-person cast is a remarkable ensemble. They’re genuinely responsive in the moment — in every moment that comes lightning fast with new obstacles — and work together like magic. Each character is created against expectation, with fun individual quirks.
The women, for example, are far more than mere props for the men. They’re unwittingly part of the shenanigans, to be sure; however, Melissa Cotton Hunter is a force to be reckoned with as Mary Smith, the Wimbledon wife who’s a dead-ringer for Lady Di, and cops a North England accent while donning lacy, floral frocks. And Samantha Rickard as the other wife, Barbara Smith, channeling one part Jane Fonda with hot pink belted leotard and matching leg warmers, and one part lusty newlywed from scruffy Streatham with long burgundy crimped locks and a posh accent, against type.
Johnnie Carpathios plays taxi driver John Smith with innocence, heart and a little bit of idiocy, which makes him more lovable than a lying, cheating bigamist otherwise would be. His commitment to the wackiness of this character through physical and facial gestures is admirable.
John Jay Espino is hugely expressive, misguided and in the dark as Detective Sergeant Porterhouse. In one of several scenes set up split stage between phone calls, his face practically does all the storytelling. He’s phenomenal, and like a mother hen, is an excellent counterpoint to Justin Mathews’ appropriately shrewd and stern Detective Sergeant Throughton.
Openly gay and rather fay, the upstairs neighbor Bobby Franklyn comes to life physically as a Daddy/Bear in Steven Lee Burright’s portrayal — very butch in his coveralls with hairy chest exposed but with a rainbow assortment of hankies in his right back pocket, advertising his particular fetishes. None of this is necessarily in the script, or particularly obvious, but all the details add up to something quite wonderful if perceived.
What’s most obvious here, however, is Patrick Hunter’s inspired performance as Stanley Gardner, self described as “one of the government’s statistics,” an impish, sloppy oaf on the dole who dons a Wham! “CHOOSE LIFE” t-shirt with a bathrobe, then upgraded to swishy track pants, whom John Smith drags into the fray to help him keep from being found out. Hunter’s Stanley never comes close to caricature, however, and his bright eyes, sweet voice, prancing runs this way and that, mullet with matching mustache, and infinite hysterical choices in this terrifically body-centered role, could steal the show. But instead, he elevates the mayhem, artfully, never upstaging or pulling focus. He’s marvelous, and will make you laugh so hard your belly hurts.
The universally terrific performances are bolstered by the 1980s British pop vision come to life with great technical skill. Samantha Snow’s set transforms a singular space complete with four doors and two windows, into two distinct flats separated by figurative distance and class — and is a bright visual feast. The actors move through the space, seamlessly making it clear when they’re in the same space or in different flats.
Sam Rudy pays great attention to detail with props that are straight out of the 1980s, and distinguished by class, from framed photos of Charles and Diana to distinctive land line telephones to fake burlap-wrapped plastic coffee cups. Likewise, Lauren Alexandra’s costumes create period and unique characters, and Crysta Menefee Gsellman’s wigs are a scream.
It all adds up to a joyful, light-hearted comedy that’s shockingly inoffensive, delightful to the senses, and offers wonderful layers of subtext one can pick up on — or not — and be wonderfully amused, if not rolling in the aisles with laughter.
Run For Your Wife