By Wendy Rosenfield
for the Inquirer
Every summer for a dozen years, Hedgerow Theatre has trotted out a farce - some new, some old - by England's reigning farceur, Ray Cooney. Run for Your Wife was their first, as well as Cooney's most successful, and the company revives it again with Penelope Reed behind its wildly veering wheel. The comedy ran for nine years on London's West End, closing in 1991, but last year received an abysmal screen treatment that left reviewers decrying its stale humor. So, have we moved past this zigzagging farce's freshness date? Well, yes and no.
Certainly, there's plenty of mileage in a taxi driver and secret bigamist who gets whacked in the head during a mugging. Still woozy, he gives the hospital two separate home addresses which happen to house his two separate wives, each of whom contacts the police looking for her husband. But Cooney's distasteful habit of relying on "pansy" and "poofter" jokes - which rears its ugly head in more than one of his comedies - is an uncomfortable match for contemporary audiences.
Reed's frenetic pace keeps Joel Guerrero's chubby marriage maestro John Smith on the move, and with wiry Andrew Parcell as coconspirator and neighbor Stanley Gardener, the pair work their way through this script's pitfalls with plenty of physical humor and finesse.
Amy Frear and Alexis Newbauer toe their respective lines as Mary and Barbara, wives one and two, though Newbauer's assertiveness makes for more fun viewing than Frear's abrupt swing from even temper to hysteria. More fun still is Zoran Kovcic's mild-mannered Detective Porterhouse, whose curious nickname brings some of the show's heartiest laughs.
Despite this play's 1983 premiere, perhaps setting the production in a different era might have helped sidestep (or confront) some of Cooney's less charitable characterizations. And while Kovcic (who also designed the set) alludes to the early '80s with metal wall sculptures and abstract paintings, he doesn't go quite far enough. Neither does costumer Cathie Miglionico, whose costumes (except those for a gay upstairs neighbor) are too understated to convey a sense of either place or time. Still, credit the crack team onstage for making the best of this material.
Run for Your Wife Presented by Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd., Media, through Aug. 18. Tickets: $10-$32. 610-565-4211 or www.hedgerowtheatre.org.