Whether or not you consider yourself a fan of farce hardly matters when you find yourself in the audience of a truly excellent production. The script will necessarily be formulaic and full of corny jokes — and yet what talented, imaginative, fully-committed actors can do with that set of characters and off-the-wall scenario, particularly with a director who has a gift for comedy, can make you marvel at their artistry and laugh so hard your belly hurts.
This is precisely what’s going on at Mason Street Warehouse with the current production of “Unnecessary Farce.” Directed by David Alpert, whose attention to every detail and wonderful use of blocking and movement to maximize physical comedy potential, this show is not only ridiculously funny, but it’s also shot through with genuine suspense and surprise.
Premiering in 2006 and written by actor-playwright Paul Slade Smith, the story of “Unnecessary Farce” unfolds in two motel rooms, mirror images of each other. In one, an embezzling mayor is to meet with his new accountant, a woman in cahoots with the undercover cops next door. They’ve set up a surveillance camera to record evidence of his wrongdoing; however, the eight slamming doors among and between the two rooms are slippery boundaries, and who’s hiding where, who ends up in bed with whom and why, who’s saying what, where on earth their clothes are, and who’s who — cops, hitmen, security detail, but a handful of possibilities within this world of mistaken identity and misunderstandings — are among the stupidly hilarious complications.
The show is at least as character-driven as it relies on its twisted, kooky plot, and the actors in command of these characters at Mason Street Warehouse make up a universally gifted cast. The way they play together is wonderfully responsive and makes the whole thing feel spontaneous.
They’re so well cast, in fact, that, at times their very physical presence alone inspires laughter. Kate Thomsen, who gives a gymnastic yet also nuanced performance as accountant Karen Brown, stands, in heels, more than a foot taller than John Shuman as a delightfully diminutive and seemingly obtuse Mayor Meekly. This gag is made all the more funny as Mary Robin Roth as his wife looks for him beneath pillows and other small items in the two motel rooms.
Joel Gelman is marvelous as Agent Frank, and makes him one of the more complex characters on stage. Teddy Yudain and Amanda Ryan Paige are not quite Keystone Kops, though they’re deliciously incompetent and earnest, and their performances hysterical. She is an absolute hoot, particularly with her translations of Chris Blissett’s incomprehensible Scottish rants as Todd — during which his face turns so red with rage it matches the layers of tartan he wears. He’s a scream.
Daniel G. Guyette’s impressive set is masterfully crafted and with excellent detail that makes it easy to get lost in the story and believe the unbelievable antics happening on stage. The mirror image of the two sides of the set also highlight clever blocking and impressive combat choreography by Chris Blissett in which a fight on one side and foreplay on the other appear to be two sides of the same coin. Slapstick simulated sex also abounds to great hilarity.
Darlene Veenstra’s costumes, notably uniquely interesting underwear indicative of character for nearly everyone on stage, not only help create character, but also allow the actors to perform their adventurous acrobatics. Heather Miedema’s props, too, are important to the action, and work beautifully.
There’s nothing not to like and a whole lot to admire in Mason Street Warehouse’s most excellent “Unnecessary Farce.” Superb direction and performances supported by wonderfully executed design ultimately lead to two hours of wicked fun and spontaneous laughter — and who couldn’t use more of that?
Mason Street Warehouse
July 26-Aug. 10