It’s the silly season at PTD Productions with "Farce of Nature"
Hee-haw! Rural comedy is still alive, kicking, and knee slapping in the PTD production of Farce of Nature.
In a note to the audience, directors Janet Rich and Dennis Platte write, “We wish for you to take time to set aside the troubles of the world, to smile, and to be silly.”
The directors keep the silliness moving along at a quick pace and have encouraged the cast to bring on the ham.
The play takes place in the lobby of the Reel 'Em Inn, “the finest little fishing lodge in the Ozark Mountains,” a ma and pa business southern style.
In this case, pa is an easy going if secretive rube named D. Gene Wilbourn. Ma is his fierce, love-starved wife, Wanelle.
The play by a committee of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten is negligible. Some parts are like skits on the old Hee Haw TV series: loud, goofy and older than, well you know. There is a running gag in the show about Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple and its endless productions around the world. But Simon’s comedy was not just a series of jokes, but well-defined and relatable characters in a real setting. We’ve been at those poker nights; we’ve known the Pigeon sisters. This play is skit comedy, without the politics of Saturday Night Live or Second City. It deals shamelessly in ethnic cliches and set pieces that lack originality.
But the play does give actors a chance to riff on some comic staples and this cast embraces that opportunity for silly good humor.
The play opens with Wanelle trying out the seductive moves she plans to use on her inattentive husband. Marie Jones as Wanelle sets the tone with her comic mime of a woman who is both desperate and knowing about what time does to us all. Her romp in a negligee is funny and in her later scenes she’s humorously fierce about holding on to her man.
Her man may be a rube but his big mistake is keeping quiet about a real estate plan to update the inn that leads to several farcical misunderstandings. Richard Heberlein has an expressive, hangdog face that he uses well. He makes a charming and flustered D. Gene. His pants-down routine gets them every time.
The plot and the comedy catch fire when D. Gene’s sister Maxie shows up. Amy Griffith gives a hilarious performance as a sheriff’s deputy still trying to prove herself. She is what the country folk would call a “real pistol.” And she has a pistol, if she could only find the bullet. She’s loud, she’s overactive and she’s the spark plug that drives the show. Maxie is equal parts Don Knotts in his Barney Fife mode and Melissa McCarthy in her raucous abandon. Griffith is all of those things right from the get go.
Maxie has been given an assignment to protect a Chicago man in the Witness Protection Program. Carmine is a bundle of nerves with an allergic reaction to all things rural. The tall, gangly Drew Benson gives hyperkinetic force to this slickster from the city who is hiding out from the mobster he ratted on. In later scenes he gets to try on some other personas.
Cindy Franklin plays Jenna Sealy, the frustrated girl friend of Ty Wilbourn, who has gone missing, but is heir apparent to the Reel 'Em Inn. Her wide eyes are used to good effect as she provides a nice exclamation point to the action. Her best scenes come in the second act when she makes drunken tramps across the stage with growing levels of inebriation.
Ty returns home from his escape to Chicago to try acting. Wyatt Woodside does a fine job of over-emoting. He gives the character a proper bombast of uber-macho swagger. In the second act, he gets to (spoiler alert here) don a dress, a blonde wig, and nice earrings to do a standout drag routine.
His amorous producer, Lola Barbosa, accompanies Ty. Mary Hopper gives Lola a big city accent (maybe more Jersey than Chicago) and a tough sexiness.
The plot thickens when Lola’s husband, the mobster Sonny Barbosa shows up. Josh Warn is all swagger in a lot of bling as Sonny.
The last character to arrive is a developer who arrives is Roxanne played nicely by Jan Carpman.
The cast seemed to be enjoying themselves, happy to be free to ham it up and goof on the cliches the play gives them. Audiences just might enjoy what the directors and their cast have created.
Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.
PTD Productions presents "Farce of Nature" at 8 pm on Nov. 10-11 and Nov. 16-18, and at 2 pm on Nov. 12 and 15, at the Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St., Ypsilanti. For tickets, call 734-483-7345 or visit ptdproductions.com.