MENASHA, Wis. (WFRV) – The joke in “Unnecessary Farce” is … everything.

That starts with the opening welcome announcement done with a Scottish brogue.

And it ends with the last line, the title, done with a Scottish brogue.

In between is a story dreamed up for heaps of laughs that often bump into bawdy.

Behind the smart styling by director Susan Rabideau, the humor rolls and rolls in University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Fox Theatre’s production that has two more performances this week.

The Scottish connection?

Playwright Paul Slade Smith creates a mafia not from a typical source but Scotland. His hitman, named Todd, wears a kilt and plays a tune on bagpipe before doing his deeds for his boss, Big Mac.

Todd arrives well into the play, which is mayhem from the first minute.

A plain clothes cop, Eric (Evan Smet), promises his police chief 100 percent results in a surveillance setup in the next room in a motel. Eric, as he bungles getting dressed while on the phone, assures his chief he is fully prepared. Eric also says his gung-ho rookie partner, Billie (Hannah Nolte), is quite ready though dressed in a police uniform for the undercover job.

A video setup is hooked to the next room, where accountant Karen (Rachel Moldenhauer) is fixing to get the Mayor (Robert Ernst) to expose his role in shady gaps in the city’s finances. A final face-to-face check between Eric and Karen leads to spontaneous romance that’s more than kissy-face. Watching on a TV monitor in the next room, Billie is impressed by the romping.

In steps the Mayor’s security guy, Frank (John Zang) to clear the room for any hidden devices. The joke is Frank misses the camera in the planter of ivy. Frank also mistakes a situation and believes Karen is making out with him.

Thickening the plot, which is akin to haggis for all its ingredients, Todd (Gabriel John Hyatt) arrives for a kiltified job to do. When things do not go well for Todd, anger jumbles his words, making his Scottish even more difficult to understand.

Further thickening comes when Mary (Patricia Fails), the wife of the Mayor, shows up to add to the comical complications of the plot.

Backstage with, from left, Robert Ernst, Rachel Moldenhauer, John Zhang, Evan Smet, Hannah Nolte, Gabriel John Hyatt and Patricia Fails. (UWO Fox Theatre)

This and that:

+ Slam! That’s the sound of a door slamming. This is a farce. Doors slam with well-tuned timing. Seven doors.

+ Sight gags. You can’t see them here, but they’re like snowflakes in the show. As the cop, Eric, Evan Smet delivers an array of physical gestures and bits, all exaggerated.

+ Voicing, part 1. Gabriel John Hyatt has a way with the Scottish accent of Todd. It’s lilting when Todd is faux sweet and laying on fake charm. It’s an explosive blur of mixed-up “Scottish” syllables when Todd looses his temper and needs interpreting.

+ One of the jokes is Billie, who seldom gets anything right, perfectly translates one of Todd’s verbal blasts. Hannah Nolte does this at warp speed over a couple of minutes – Saturday earning applause from the audience.

+ Voicing, part 2. John Zhang creates a unique voice for Frank, the Mayor’s security guy with a sketchy past. The voice is hard to place – a bit tough, a bit gravelly, a bit streetwise and all John Zhang’s. One joke with it is Frank gets talky, talky, talky to Todd, who is comically trapped in the yammering.

+ Voicing, part 3. Robert Ernst pours saccharine naivety into the Mayor’s ever-accidental happenings with naughtiness. Dumb innocence fills his voice – and expressions – as the Mayor sees varying configurations in a bed.

+ Risqué. That, too, is all around like snowflakes. Prominent is the running joke with Rachel Moldenhauer as suddenly un-staid accountant Karen, who in the whole show is fully clothed only briefly.

+ Rhythm. Susan Rabideau has polished details in timing and expression with her eager cast.

+ Funny. Yes.


Running time: One hour, 42 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Nov. 17, 18


Creative: Playwright – Paul Slade Smith; director Susan Rabideau; technical director – Brian Ugorowski; paint designer – Roy Hoglund; stage manager – Jenn Kalchik; assistant stage manager – Brenna Lane; directing observer – Jim Harwell; set designers – Brian Ugorowski, Susan Rabideau; costumer – John LaPrairie; lighting designer – Brian Ugorowski

Cast (in order of appearance):

Eric – Evan Smet

Billie – Hannah Nolte

Karen – Rachel Moldenhauer

Mayor – Robert Ernst

Frank – John Zhang

Todd – Gabriel John Hyatt

Mary – Patricia Fails


SOME BACKGROUND: “Unnecessary Farce” had its Wisconsin premiere and second production overall at Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County.

Along with being a playwright, Paul Slade Smith is an actor. He’s performed on Broadway and in many theaters across the country. For a time, he was in the company of Peninsula Players Theatre.

“Unnecessary Farce” has close roots to the Fox Valley. Paul Slade Smith started writing it in Appleton when he was a company member of a national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which played at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. Members of that cast first read the script aloud in a hotel room in Minneapolis.

When “Unnecessary Farce” ran at Peninsula Players Theatre in July 2007, Paul Slade Smith was on tour with the hot “Wicked.” Meantime, his wife, Erin Noel Grennan, was performing at Peninsula Players Theatre in “Unnecessary Farce,” which he wrote to show off her comic talent.

NEXT: “Dream Role,” April 20-22.

THE VENUE: The 361-seat, two-level James W. Perry Hall features a proscenium (flat-front) stage with a substantial performance area of 36 feet wide by 86 feet deep. Acoustic clouds are part of the ceiling. On the side walls are acoustic panels of copper color that matches the woodwork stain on seat backs and arms and on decorative square and rectangular wood panels. The theater is amply equipped and fairly new. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus Communication Arts Center opened in 2009. The adjacent lobby is spacious and includes a ticket office, snack service area, restrooms and spaces for art and photo displays.

THE NAMESAKE: James W. Perry is the former dean and campus executive officer.