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Center Stage — Cooney farce a winner at Strauss Theater

By Staff | Mar 3, 2011

“If you’re going to tell a lie, tell a whopper!” blurts out Dr David Mortimore (Matthew Edwards). Thus begins a series of far out events that totally spin out of control in Ray Cooney’s “It Runs In the Family,” currently sending the Strauss Theater’s audiences into gales of helpless giggles. Like all good farces, this is a style of comedy achieved through improbability. The elements of farce generally feature complex misunderstandings, infidelity, double entendres, mistaken identities, unlikely situations, frantic actions, and rapid entrances and exits all delivered at breakneck speed… which, in this instance, Visiting Director Jason Parrish conveys perfectly, getting every laugh that the script calls for.

This current Cooney farce takes place three days before Christmas, (when the staff is preparing the annual holiday show). We find ourselves in the Doctors’ lounge of St. Andrew’s Hospital in London, where Dr. Mortimore is earnestly preparing a speech for an important conference of neurosurgeons. The speech could not only guarantee Mortimore a possible knighthood but also get the hospital some badly needed funds. Suddenly Jane Tate (Jenny Smith), his former nurse, turns up to explain her disappearance many years ago. She had been pregnant with Mortimore’s child, who is now grown, sporting a spike hairdo and a punk rocker look, somewhat unhinged after trouble with the cops, and is looking for his dad. This could jeopardize Mortimore’s knighthood, and it would certainly upset his wife Rosemary (Gail Yudan), to whom he was married at the time of the affair. Now, the good doctor really practices what he preaches: when in trouble tell a whopper. Lies pile on lies, as he enlists his colleagues to deceive his wife, his boss, a police sergeant and even his newfound son. Sharp syringes, crashing wheelchairs, squirting seltzer bottles, doctors in nurse drag, and window-ledge wrestling tumble this high energy farce into overdrive.

Edwards is one of those actors that audiences sometimes take for granted because he makes it all look so easy. It isn’t easy; fast-paced farce comedy never is. Edwards is just plain good. Steven Mooney, as the stand-in dad, Dr. Hubert Bonney, is absolutely terrific as he plays it for all it’s worth, making him an affable second banana. Sean Riley is delightfully shameless as the pixilated Dr. Mike Connolly — he gets his laughs with a minimum of effort — while Dick Boyd as Sir Willoughby Drake is the perfect fluttery foil in all this flummery. Christopher Brent as the illegitimate offspring is hilariously manicky and just a wee bit scary. Galloway Stevens does a fine job as the police sergeant, attempting to cope with all the silliness he is subjected to as he tries to hang onto his dignity. Kelly Legarretta (Matron) proves to have a fine flair for physical comedy while remaining an excellent straight woman when called for. Anne Freres (Nun/Mother) proves that she can keep her poise when all about her are losing theirs simply by the tentative way she makes her entrances. Gail Yudain and Jenny Smith play the present wife and former lover, respectively, and while they don’t have a great deal to do, both bring dignity and class their roles. Last but not least, Dave Yudowitz as the dotty and slightly senile patient in a wheelchair, Bill, is a hoot and a howl.

As I stated before Visiting Director Jason Parrish has performed a first-rate job keeping the laughs rolling merrily along; while the set design by Billy Davis with costumes by Janelle Turco contribute much to the enjoyment of this goofy spoof.

So, if English farce comedy rates high on your entertainment list of plays to see at live theater, put “It Runs In the Family” at the tip top. The show will be playing till March 26th, so phone the Strauss Theater box office at 472-6862 or BIG ARTS box office at 395-0900 for times and reservations. Remember when you call tell ’em Marsha sent you.