Little Theatre of Alexandria Funny MoneyBy Bob Ashby • Sep 15th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Little Theatre of Alexandria
Little Theatre of Alexandria, Alexandria, VA
Through September 29th
2:15 with one intermission
$17-$20 (plus fees)
Reviewed September 13th, 2012
Ray Cooney has been turning out British sex farces since the 1960s, including such well-known examples of the genre as Run For Your Wife, Not Now Darling, and Move Over Mrs. Markham. A relatively late Cooney product, Funny Money, first produced in 1994 and now running at Little Theatre of Alexandria (LTA), shares the common British sex farce trait of having everyone engage in extensive sexual innuendo (for example, the succession of “pussy” jokes in Act 2) without anyone even coming close to having sex, let alone having significant emotional stakes in the relationships involved. The amount of time given to humor based on straight men seeming to canoodle under a blanket or couples ready to swap wives leaves the sensibility of the piece stranded in the 1960s or 1970s.
What works better in the plot-driven script is the cascading of deceits, imaginary relatives, and overweening greed that tie the characters into ever more complex knots. Only a succession of hairsbreadth escapes prevents disaster. Director Shawn Byers keeps the pace of the multiplying complications spinning along smartly. The eight-person cast displays excellent comic timing, making the best of Cooney’s frequent laugh lines.
The plot centers on a briefcase full of cash that Henry Perkins (Erik Harrison) brings home, his own briefcase having been switched with that of a drug courier. While a bit young for the role, Harrison is the engine that keeps the plot moving forward, as his character improvises and manipulates his way to stay one step ahead of each ensuing obstacle to his dream of running off to Barcelona with his windfall. His dismay at the scheme’s high cost in bribery is palpable. If there were one, Harrison would also win the award for the show’s best program bio.
As Henry’s wife Jean, Charlene Sloan does not so much have a character arc as a series of abrupt transformations, from annoyingly whiny housewife to first-time drunk to an excessively chirpy woman ready to swap husbands at a moment’s notice. Married to Jean, a man could be forgiven for wanting to escape to Barcelona.
The greatest strength of the cast is in its supporting roles. Ted Culler is a delightfully consistent deer in the headlights as Vic Johnson, the Perkins’ dinner guest, always one step behind the latest plot machination. By contrast, his wife, Betty (Gayle Nichols-Grimes), is very quick on the uptake. The least obtuse of the play’s characters, Betty has her best moment when she seizes, cougar-like, on the notion of accompanying Henry to Barcelona. John Shackelford as Bill, a long-suffering cab driver, is completely believable as he tries to make sense of the various people, real and imagined, whom he is supposed to drive to the airport but who never seem quite ready to leave. As two detectives who join the confusion, Larry Gray (an enthusiastically bribable cop) and Marisa Johnson (a straight arrow, unnaturally patient cop) round out the cast.
Funny Money is well within not only the tradition of the British sex farce but also that of the drawing-room comedy. LTA’s drawing-room set, designed by Marian Holmes and decorated by Rebecca and John Johnson, is nothing short of gorgeous, rich in color and detail. The set uses only three working doors, rather few for a farce, but the script does not rely on split-second timing of entrances of the kind found in a play like Noises Off (which includes a marvelous send-up of Cooney-style British sex farces). As one expects from a well-resourced group like LTA, all the technical elements of the production are handled with great competence. In a climactic scene toward the end of Act 2, keep your eyes on the cuckoo clock.
Caution! The play that you are about to see is a farce. As such you will be subjected to improbable situations, witty dialogue and plot twists.
We urge you not to think too hard; just relish the delightful humor. Please do not be concerned if at any particular moment during the following performance you get confused, befuddled or otherwise lost as to who did what with whom. Confusion is strategically part of the experience and therefore lends itself to the comedy. The more confused you are, the more successful you have been as an audience member. Oh yes, and don’t forget to laugh!
But seriously, folks… as I sit there at my computer writing these words, a full month before any of you will see this production, it just happens to be the birthday of one of the greatest comedians who has ever lived. Lucille Ball. And oddly enough, as I sat down to read Funny Money for the first time, immediately my mind went back to my youth and watching countless hours of her shows as reruns on television.
The thing that drew me to “I Love Lucy” so many years ago is the same thing that draws me to Ray Cooney’s masterful plays. It’s that thing that separates a comedy from a farce. In a comedy you have completely outlandish characters who are placed in normal situations. Conversely, in a farce you have normal people who are placed in situations that are completely outside the realm of what could happen within the space of the two hours that you sit in the theater. And yet, in all of the fantastical, impossible situations there is truth that is reflected in the personalities of the characters on stage. For this reason Cooney’s works are extremely challenging for anyone to undertake, especially for an actor. Cooney once said in an interview:
“All the productions that I have seen of my plays all over the world, they’ve all, well 95 percent of them, have understood that you have to be truthful. That you need the energy-they are killing, these plays, to the actors; they are a cross between a sprint and a marathon. That’s the technical side of it, but you’ve also got to be truthful.”
I have challenged my actors to dig deep and find the truth in their characters, for this is what makes a farce so enjoyable and desirable to an audience. This cast has more than risen to the challenge. In every line that was written, has been memorized and is spoken, the true nature of the character unfolds as the situation spins more and more out of control. It is this human connection that makes Funny Money so enjoyable to direct, to perform, and hopefully to watch.
Photos by Doug Olmsted
- Jean Perkins: Charlene Sloan
- Henry Perkins: Erik Harrison
- Bill: John Shackelford
- Inspector Davenport: Larry Grey
- Betty Johnson: Gayle Nichols-Grimes
- Vic Johnson: Ted Culler
- Slater: Marisa Johnson
- Passer-by: Michael Metz
- Producer: Leighann Behrens
- Assistant Producers: Jennifer Lyman, Carolyn Winters
- Director: Shawn g. [sic] Byers
- Stage Managers: Sarah Boyd, Margaret Evans-Joyce
- Set Design: Marian Holmes
- Set Construction: David Doll, Dan Remmers
- Lighting Design: Chris Hardy
- Costume Design: Beverley Benda
- Sound Design: David Correia
- Set Painting: Kevin O’Dowd
- Set Decoration: Rebecca and John Johnson
- Master Electrician: Sean Allen Doyle
- Property Design: Heather and Ben Norcross
- Wardrobe: Jennifer Caballero
- Accent Coach: Cheryl Sinsabaugh
- Stage Combat choreography: Steve Lada
- Special Effects: Bret Alexander
- Rigging: Russell Wyland
- Photographer: Doug Olmstead
- Audition Table: Mary Lou Bruno, Maria Ciarrocchi, Barbara Helsing, Bobbie Herbst
- Audition Photographer: Maria Ciarrocchi
- Double Tech Dinner: Jean and Allen Stuhl
- Opening Night Party: Susan Barrett
Disclaimer: Little Theatre of Alexandria provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8601.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.