Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Laughs tumble in ‘Unnecessary Farce’ in Neenah

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Riverside Players Unnecessary Farce_1498136401031.JPG

A guy in his underwear answers the telephone in a motel room. First, he buttons his shirt over the telephone cord. Then, caught up by hearing orders from his boss, he hitches up his pants backwards. Right there, you know where this play is going – to goofusland.

You already had a hint from the title: “Unnecessary Farce.”

What you don’t know – but discover along the way – is how good the performances are by the Riverside Players community theater troupe in this present-day take on an old art form in comedy – the farce.

***

Creative: Playwright – Paul Slade Smith; director – Dee Savides; technical director – Aaron Hoffman; set/lighting design – Thad Kraus; stage manager – Elizabeth Ahles; crew foreman – Andy Dubey; technical intern – Cody Lenz; props master and costumer – Amy Mattfield; artistic director – Laurie Friedman Fannin

Cast: Eric Sheridan – Shannon Glenn; Billie Dwyer – Kimberly Mueller; Karen Brown – Kristine Glenn; Mayor Meekly – Mark Luebke; Agent Frank – Kristofer Holly; Todd – Steve Savides; Mary Meekly – Laurie Friedman Fannin

Running time: Two hours

Remaining performances: 8 p.m. June 22, 23, 24; 7 p.m. June 25

Info: ci.neenah.wi.us/departments/parks-recreation/riverside-players/

***

A sure sign of a farce is the number of doors. This one has eight, not counting lids on two storage benches (bonus points to the author for those). Doors in farces are for slamming and for quick exits and entrances – or hiding someone behind, or keeping someone from getting to a necessary place before getting caught.

Another sign of a farce is key people are incapable of delivering the goods. This one has two cops who have everything needed to pull the plug on a $16 million embezzlement scheme – everything but a brain between them. What can go wrong does.

A farce should have a majority of the cast ending up in underwear along the way. This one has four of the seven cast members in skivvies in various scenes – some setups being suggestive. This is a bit of a saucy show, as in a nip of jalapeno hot. A funny thing is, the Mayor keeps walking into the two motel rooms in this show “catching” people in acts that look more scandalous than they are.

Playwright Paul Slade Smith created a beauty with “Unnecessary Farce.” In real life, Smith is an actor who writes. Among places he has acted is the professional Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County. “Unnecessary Farce” made its Wisconsin premiere there a few years ago. Another place where Smith acts is on Broadway. At present, he has returned to Broadway to perform in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

The set is this: Two duplicate motel rooms side by side. The wall between them is imaginary. There is a doorway between the rooms. In one room, the two none-too-swift cops – one male, one female – have a TV monitor and recording system that are connected to a hidden camera and listening device in the room next door. Soon, the Mayor will arrive next door and spill the beans of his wrongdoing to an accountant (female) working for the cops. It doesn’t take long before we find out the male cop and the accountant have a thing for each other. Their passion is accidentally recorded before the Mayor shows up. And that’s just the start of an avalanche of comedy. This is an extremely funny show, and production.

Director Dee Savides has good things going to make the production click. Two husband-wife things help. The male cop and the accountant in real life are husband and wife – Shannon Glenn and Kristine Glenn. They are uninhibited (somewhat surprisingly) about some of the realistic things they do in front of the audience. They happen to be wired for comedy, too, Shannon Glenn especially called on for inanities. Dee Savides also has her husband, Steve Savides, in the boom role – “boom” as in the character says something, does something or, in this case, wears something (or doesn’t wear something) and – BOOM – gales of laughter erupt. Steve Savides happens to be a versatile actor, so he lights up the stage as a Scotsman whose thick brogue is the doorway to bundles of comedic action and reaction.

And the rest of the cast is “on,” too. Kimberly Mueller rough-and-tumbles her way through the role of the female cop who only has one cop thing down pat – eating donuts. Mark Luebke is the bubbly Mayor, continuously bumping into people in the throes of who knows what. Kristofer Holly is the Mayor’s gung-ho but dim security agent; Holly has the deadpan down, and wry lines. Laurie Friedman Fannin is the Mayor’s wife, who seems to be loose in the wheelhouse.

Together, the company (and crew) create a whole bunch of fun. This is really, really funny live theater.

One of the interesting things about this production is the TV/recording setup. The way the system is placed, most of the audience is unaware that the system is for real. The stage is rectangular, and the audience surrounds the stage on three sides in a “U.” People sitting in the bottom of the “U” and for about 20 feet on the legs of the “U” – almost two-thirds of the audience – can’t see the images on the TV screen. But, indeed, when funny business is going on in the room next door, the cops and others looking at the screen can see what’s going on. And the system includes a rewind function for scenes when replay of hanky-panky come into play. The effort that went into make the recording an actuality helps the actors react and act off of what’s on the screen, making the comedy all the more “real” and effective. It’s a nifty touch for this production.

NEXT: “Footloose,” July 27-Aug. 6.

VENUE: Riverside Pavilion in Riverside Park in Neenah is an open shelter used for summer shows of Riverside Players. The “Theatre in the Park” concept started in 1955. Seating for 244 is set up around three sides of a rectangular stage. The building is stone exterior, with the inside including a wooden ceiling with large wooden support beams and a cement floor. The performance space is what amounts to a thrust stage – “thrusting” out into the audience. This style of stage is famous in some locations – Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Stratford Festival in Canada. It’s interesting that the Riverside Players stage came to be in the 1950s just as thrust stages in other places were getting attention as pioneering. The pavilion’s location is picturesque. The park, on the Fox River near Lake Winnebago, is rimmed on two sides by grand historical homes, one of which was converted into Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass. For settings, Riverside Players has a spot that catches the eye like few others.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My new books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words),” are available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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