Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Farce is not with us

For Hat Trick’s Unnecessary Farce, a sense of futility doesn’t end with the play’s title.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 11:39 AM

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click to enlarge KNEE-JERKED: Gi Sung as Officer Billie Dwyer and David Barrow as Officer Eric Sheridan. -  - KRISTEN GARZA
  • Kristen Garza
  • KNEE-JERKED: Gi Sung as Officer Billie Dwyer and David Barrow as Officer Eric Sheridan.

Unnecessary Farce can be seen through April 27 at the Straz’s Shimberg Playhouse, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa, 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 4 p.m. Sun., $23, facebook.com/HatTrickTheatre.

There are seven doors in Kristen Garza’s fine set for Unnecessary Farce, and, as you might expect, every one of them matters. There are doors through which unwanted visitors appear, doors behind which frightened characters hide, doors on the other side of which prisoners are stowed, and doors that separate would-be lovers from one another. At the start, two police officers are depending on one door remaining closed: the one that connects their motel room to another that they’re spying on. In that important other room, the mayor of an unnamed city is about to meet with an accountant who will try to get him to admit that he embezzled 16 million dollars from the city treasury.

The only problem is, the two cops are incompetent, the mayor is a bumbling fool, the accountant is sex-starved, and there are uninvited visitors including a city security officer, a Scottish hit man, and the mayor’s wife. Certainly there are enough elements here — doors and doofuses among them — to make for a raucous evening.

But they don’t. Although it has its moments, for the most part Unnecessary Farce is mediocre in content and sloppy in form. Paul Slade Smith’s script is ridiculous in the wrong sense — as in, no, that’s too unlikely — and Hat Trick Theatre’s production, if high on energy, is low on precision or anything like grace. Most good farces depend on the tension between order and disorder to draw our laughter, but this one offers most characters flopping about messily and displaying a slipshod approach to theater. There are some exceptions, but for the most part this farce just isn’t a good time.
click to enlarge ROOM WITH A VIEW: Jamie Jones as Agent Frank gets a gander at Emily Belvo as Karen Brown. - KRISTEN GARZA
  • Kristen Garza
  • ROOM WITH A VIEW: Jamie Jones as Agent Frank gets a gander at Emily Belvo as Karen Brown.

It starts promisingly enough with those two police officers, Eric and Billie, preparing for the mayor’s arrival in the next room. Eric has to remind Billie that, as an undercover cop, she should know better than to wear her uniform (this didn’t occur to her?), and he also has to coach accountant Karen Brown on how to signal if she needs the two cops to come rescue her (of course these signals will go unheeded).

But once Eric and Karen are alone, their torrid affair, which almost began the previous night, leaps back into existence, and they’re all over each other. What they don’t realize is that the spy camera is on, and their thrashing around is being observed first by Billie and then by the mayor they’re trying to entrap.

It’s soon after this that the plot goes south. It starts with Agent Frank, an armed security officer supposedly interested in the mayor’s continued good health, and continues with Todd the Scottish gangster whose brogue is so extreme, no one (including the audience) can understand him. The improbabilities multiply, the stakes increasingly become blurred, and the finale is so unlikely, it’s either frosting on the cake (I wish) or just one last shabby mud pie (I regret to say).

Even so, a few actors manage to turn in good work. As accountant Brown, Emily Belvo is painfully sex-deprived, and so in lust with officer Eric, she can barely spend a moment with him without needing to relieve him of his trousers. As the duplicitous security agent Frank, Jamie Jones is a nice caricature of a macho peace officer, handsome and gun-handy but comically cowardly when faced with real danger. And as the depraved Scot named Todd, Christopher “Maxxwell” Janeda is (at least at first) very funny as he tries to be understood. But David Barrow, in the pivotal role of Eric, only shows us a harmless nebbish, and Gi Sung isn’t convincing as an over-her-head policewoman.

As Mayor Meekly, Eric Swearingen is only shabby and distracted, and as his wife, Jaime Giangrande-Holcom merely seems undefined. Jack Holloway’s direction is too often slapdash, but Sung’s costumes are excellent and Anthony Vito’s lighting is eloquent. Garza’s set is the best thing in the show.

Good farce means a creative confrontation of the exact and the chaotic, but Unnecessary Farce is just untidy, and too illogical to be enjoyed.

I’d heard good things about this play before I went to see it; I was misinformed. This is slack work — on page and stage. 

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