Little Theater of Alexandria Caught in the NetBy Bob Ashby • Sep 12th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Little Theater of Alexandria: (Info) (Web)
Little Theatre of Alexandria, Alexandria, VA
2:15 with intermission
Reviewed September 7th, 2013
Combine excellent acting, a crisp pace, precise timing, and a detailed and flexible set and you can make a highly entertaining evening of the thinnest of material. Such is the case with Little Theater of Alexandria’s production of Ray Cooney’s farce Caught in the Net. A sequel to the playwright’s 1983 hit Run for Your Wife, Caught in the Net follows the twists and turns of a career bigamist’s increasingly complicated and desperate attempts to avoid being found out by his two families.
Bigamist John Smith (Mike Baker) has two wives: Barbara (Annie Ermlick) and Mary (Tricia O’Neill-Politte). He has a teenage child with each wife: Gavin (Luke Markham) and Vicki (Eliza Lore), respectively. He is able to support both households in middle-class comfort in contemporary London on a taxi driver’s income, a minor miracle that Cooney, probably fortunately, does not explore. The spark that ignites the plot is an internet connection between Vicki and Luke; the kids want to go out together. How can John prevent their meeting, which will surely expose his couple of decades of duplicity?
Like many a character in farce, John is not intended to be played with subtlety, and it is hard to imagine a better casting choice than Baker to take the role well over the top. With his bluster, panicked facial expressions, high-speed improvisations of wildly improbable stories, and capacity for packing himself into unlikely physical positions (e.g., rolled up in a rug; burying his face, ostrich-like, in a chair), Baker is a non-stop generator of hilarious situations, who adds the occasional faux-Chinese or German accent to the mix.
The two Mrs. Smiths are nicely drawn. As Mary, O’Neill-Politte begins as a seemingly practical housewife who becomes progressively unhinged as the effects of being locked into various rooms and a belief that her longtime lodger Stanley (Paul Tamney) is a closet pervert ultimately lead her to rush about the house brandishing a large knife, like a Mrs. Lovett on a really bad day. Ermlick’s Barbara is a sexier, sweeter woman, benignly oblivious to most of the chaos around her, though frequently exasperated by her inability to reach her wandering husband on the phone (John and Stanley repeatedly hang up on her, respond only with heavy breathing, etc.). Both master an essential skill of acting in a farce: ensuring that characters living through absurd events never betray awareness of the absurdity. The characters take their situation fully seriously, never knowing that something funny is going on.
As the two nice, clean-cut kids, Markham and Lore don’t have the opportunity to participate in the craziness nearly as much as the older characters, though their very normality provides a humorous contrast to the their elders’ shenanigans. The final character in the play, Stanley’s dotty father (Richard Fiske), is written as a running dementia joke, complete with multiple pratfalls. For some reason, Fiske attempts to portray his elderly character’s physicality with an exaggeratedly bow-legged stance worthy of Yosemite Sam.
The real center of the play, however, is Stanley. As John’s longtime co-conspirator, Tamney’s Stanley is a rather dim fellow called upon – especially during John’s frequent absences from the stage – to continually devise new and creative ways to keep John’s secret. With his still, quiet, often deadpan mien (a nice contrast to the frenetic carryings-on by other characters), Tamney’s Stanley waits just long enough for just enough neurons to fire before coming up with the latest in his series of ever-more incredible lies, piled one on top of the other. It’s a fine example of the Buster Keaton-like comic power of a character trying to keep up with the very strange things happening to him, without losing a degree of dignity.
As necessary in farce, Michael deBlois set design provides plenty of entrances, seven doors plus a staircase. A number of the doors lock from the outside, convenient for the plot if peculiar as a matter of house design. Given the slamming of and banging upon doors that occupy a good deal of some characters’ time, especially in the second act, the doors are constructed strongly enough not to sound like flimsy stage doors. The single set serves as both Smith residences, distinguished by white doors on stage right and tan doors on stage left, as well as by different wall colors. Notwithstanding these visual distinctions, the playing space is used interchangeably as both homes, sometimes simultaneously. Whatever confusion may ensue is not out-of-place in a show that glories in confusion.
Director Eleanore Tapscott keeps the pace fast and the timing of entrances and exits exact, both essential to the success of a play of this type and especially commendable for an opening night performance. Cooney’s plays are well-constructed Rube Goldberg machines, and Tapscott keeps the gears, wheels, and levers operating smoothly. Given a cast of seven actors, Tapscott makes lovely use of the seven doors for the curtain call. Janice Rivera’s sounds design is spot-on with respect to the timing of the show’s frequent phone rings. Somewhat oddly for a show set in the current century that includes contemporary, computer-savvy teenagers, the songs chosen for the incidental music are mostly of 60s and 70s vintage.
Perhaps Rivera was onto something: notwithstanding references to the internet, Cooney’s sensibility remains squarely fixed some decades in the past, in a day when housewives being horrified about being under the same roof with a homosexual or old men being mentally confused and falling down might have been thought of as on the cutting edge of comedy. And then there is the final plot twist, which on an incredulity scale challenges the baby switch revelation at the end of HMS Pinafore. In any case, the capacity audience loved every moment, and the intervals between laughs were very short indeed.
A true farce, Caught in the Net contains all the key elements of farce: slamming doors, mistaken identities, concocted stories, incredible timing as characters run from room to room just missing each other, and characters locked in and out of rooms for the skimpiest of explanations. Mr. Cooney has said, “People understand the predicaments that arise from certain situations and settings, and that’s what they find all the funnier.” According to Mr. Cooney, there is absolutely no difference between a man discovering his wife in bed with his best friend in a farce and a man discovering his wife in bed with his best friend in a tragedy. The reaction of the husband in each play should be exactly the same. The difference is in the audience’s reaction.
I like to think that I could be quick enough on my feet to come up with some of the outlandish explanations offered by some of the characters in this play. Alas, I cannot, but I can sit back and enjoy the brilliant construction of this script and its numerous LOL moments.
I hope the audience finds itself LOLing and ROTFLTAO!
Photos by Tabitha Rymal – Vaughn
- Gavin Smith: Luke Markham
- Vicki Smith: Eliza Lore
- Barbara Smith: Annie Ermlick
- Mary Smith: Tricia O’Neill-Politte
- John Smith: Mike Baker
- Stanley Gardner: Paul Tamney
- Stanley’s Dad; Richard Fiske
- Producers: Richard Schwab, Alan Wray
- Director: Eleanore Tapscott
- Stage Manages: Sherry Clarke, Margaret Evans-Joyce
- Set Construction: Dan Remmers
- Assisted by: Sarah Boyd, Ed Broyles, Jim Carmalt, Jeff Gathers, Robert Kraus, Thomas McLaughlin, Jeff Nesmeyer, Art Snow, Cal Whitehurst, Rance Willis
- Lighting Designer: Nancy Owens
- Costume Designer: Susan Boyd
- Sound Design: Janice Rivera
- Assisted by: Anna Hawkins, Kira Simon, Gene Warner
- Set Painting: Nancy Ramsey, Toni Sanford
- Assisted by: Marian Holmes, Susie Poole, Bruce Schmid
- Set Decoration: Russell Wyland
- Assisted by: Marian Holmes
- Master Electrician: Liz Owens
- Assisted by: Kimberly Crago, Robert Kraus, Pam Leonowich, Michael O’Connor
- Property Designers: Alisa Beyninson, Eddy Roger Parker,
- Assisted by: Nancy Cefalo, Megan Mattheny, Joe Rodriquez, Toni Sanford, Sherry Singer, Margaret Snow, Adrian Steel
- Wardrobe: Margaret Snow
- Assisted by: Alisa Beyninson, Nancy Cefalo, Barbara Helsing, Rebecca Sheehy
- Hair and Makeup Designer: Susan Boyd
- Accent Coach: Heather Sanderson
- Stunt Coordinator: Nyla Rose
- Rigging: Russell Wyland
- Photographer: Tabitha Rymal-Vaughn
- Audition Coordinator: Maria Ciarrocchi
- Assisted by: Mary Lou Bruno, Eileen Doherty, Bobbie Herbst, Shelagh Roberts
- Double-Tech Dinner: Katie Gilman
- Assisted by: Laura Fox
- Opening Night Party Host: Russell Wyland
- Assisted by: Robert Kraus, Meghan Lau, Eddy Roger Parker, Sherry Singer, Wendy Sneff
Disclaimer: Little Theater of Alexandria provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9743.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.