Review: Necessary laughs in 'Unnecessary Farce'

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Officers Eric Sheridan and Billie Dwyer tie up Todd, the Scottish assassin, in Act II Playhouse's "Unnecessary Farce." (MARK GARVIN)

Too many theatergoers, artists and critics operate under the idea that theater should provide social commentary, challenge orthodoxy, or motivate political change, with audience enjoyment a secondary (at best) concern.

Paul Slade Smith's hysterical, albeit mindless, Unnecessary Farce exploded this mistaken belief one recent evening at Ambler's Act II Playhouse, as the audience roared throughout the 100-minute, two-act international hit.

Smith has written a doozy of a door-slamming, mistaken-identity plot-shuffler. Eric (Anthony Lawton) and Billie (Karen Peakes), a paper pusher and former meter maid, land their first plum assignment as new cops: an undercover sting to bring down a dim-witted, embezzling mayor (Tom Teti).

A lovelorn accountant (Susan McKey as Karen) has discovered discrepancies in the city's budget and asked the mayor to meet her at a hotel, one whose adjoining rooms and eight doors facilitate quick scenes and physical comedy and help the hidden video camera act as its own comedic fodder, especially when Karen's instant attraction to Eric leads her to unwittingly disrobe for the rest of the characters.

When a looming Scottish assassin (Jake Blouch, the funniest I've ever seen him) appears to snuff out the investigation, the laughter intensifies, as Blouch's brogue baffles, and only Peakes' Billie can translate his malicious intents.

Director David Bradley's sterling timing strings laughs together at a machine-gun pace (though the door slams' knocking people unconscious stretches credulity a bit). Jokes about soft-core adult films, a bagpipe's broken bag symbolizing impotence, and caricatures of jealous boyfriends spice up the traditional farcical bits of mistaken identity and hasty entrances and exits. Smith serves up his raunchiness on the sly, a less childish version of the humor found in a Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler film.

The cast excels, particularly McKey, whom I've never seen perform comedy outside the yearly People's Light panto. I've seen most of these actors (Teti, Peakes, Lawton, Blouch), play Shakespeare, Ibsen, Stoppard and the like in shows across the region, and their talents are not wasted here.

Does Smith's play challenge or provoke? No more than Olive Garden challenges culinary expectations or Kohl's sells provocative home decor. No, it only delivers laugh after laugh, putting the icing on whatever else patrons have done with their evening, giving them a nightcap of comedy instead of nightmares from thought-provoking serious drama.

 


THEATER REVIEW

Unnecessary Farce

Through March 29

at Act II Playhouse,

56 E. Butler Ave, Ambler

Tickets: $28-$35

215-654-0200

or act2.org