Theater group rides comic road to better times


November 06, 1992|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

Although the economy isn't something to laugh at, one local theater company believes laughter might be just the ticket for coping with today's economic ills.

Using the tried and true tactics of Depression-era movies and theater, the Columbia Community Players is launching its first all-comedy season to lure hard-hit consumers.

Ray Cooney's "Run For Your Wife" opens Nov. 13 at Slayton House, followed by "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940" in February and "No Sex Please, We're British" in May.

Bringing to mind the screwball comedies and musical extravaganzas of the 1930s, Players' president Lawrence Bory summed up what he believes today's audiences are looking for: entertainment and escape.

"My wife and I grew up in that era and felt that this is what people wanted," he said. "Clearly, we were recognizing that people are in a [difficult] situation and have to cope with the economy. We felt what we had to do now is entertain them."

The company adopted the strategy after discovering that as the economy worsened, so did ticket sales. To ward off a further decline, the group decided to reverse its standard seasonal lineup of one drama, mystery and comedy, and offer only comedies.

"While satisfying for us as actors and directors, plays like 'The Little Foxes' and 'The Shadow Box' force you into thoughtful situations," said Mr. Bory, who is slated to direct "No Sex Please, We're British." "We had to go beyond thinking of the actors when selecting plays with attractive parts and think of the audience."

Although the 17-year-old company has produced several sophisticated comedies, the board and play-selection committee decided on strictly contemporary British fare that features complex situations and exaggerated humor.

Take "Run For My Wife" -- please. While not appropriate for children, it is certainly entertaining.

The two-act play follows a day in the life of good-natured bigamist John Smith.

Smith, played by John Di Meo, thinks he has everything under control. All it takes for him to juggle his dual life is to code the day's activities in a small black book: CDWB -- Cuddling Day With (wife) Barbara -- or SWM -- Saturday with (other wife) Mary.

It is only when the young cabdriver is hospitalized after a roadside scuffle that things start to get complicated. Faced with fessing up or covering up, Smith chooses what he believes to be the wisest solution all around: lie, lie, lie.

As the story unfolds, "Oh what a tangled web we weave . . ." becomes the play's mantra.

Replete with all the makings of a farce -- door slamming, sexual innuendo, double-entendre, physical comedy and synchronized onstage movement -- the play brims with clever dialogue and timing.

What makes the fast-paced production truly remarkable though, its impressive attention to detail.

"For this kind of British sex farce, the choreography is especially important," said director Laureen Benson-Hall, a film and television acting instructor at Howard Community College. "People spinning, zipping around. One door opens and another closes right away. As one comes in, another goes out. Everyone has to be in the right place at the right time -- whether to get hit in the head or be pirouetted onto the couch."

Learning to speak the part also demanded attention, so an accent coach was brought on to teach the uncontinental cast of eight the distinctions between American and British dialect.

"The coach had a book with all these different vowel signs," Ms. Bensen-Hall said. "It was like listening to PBS."

But even without the accent, learning the lines proved difficult, .. even for veteran actor Mr. Di Meo.

"There's lots of conversation that doesn't follow in a logical vein," said. "Most scripts are programmed conversation. They follow a pattern and they're usually fairly easy to memorize. But [in 'Run For Your Wife'], a person walks in the room and [as Smith], I have to make up what's going on."

Andy Raum, who plays Smith's flamboyant neighbor and confidante, Stanley Gardner, agreed.

"There are so many non sequiturs," he said. "It's disjointed on purpose -- everyone is on a different track. Consequently, we are saying things that aren't conversations. They aren't connected to each other.

"And if you're trying to memorize a line, it doesn't follow. So you have to actually memorize everybody's lines, otherwise, you don't know where you are."

But the vigorous rehearsals pay off in the on-target performances turned in by all.

Mr. Di Meo proves to be particularly adept at physical humor, and Mr. Raum has a natural flair for broad comedy.

Throughout the farce, a swath of bewilderment paints the face of Rosemary Monti, who plays befuddled first wife Mary. Paula Villa proves equally amusing as voluptuous other wife Barbara.

The show is certainly a worthwhile escape for a mere $8.

"Run For Your Wife" will be performed at 8 p.m. Nov. 13, 14, 20 and 21 at Slayton House in the village of Wilde Lake in Columbia. General admission is $8. Tickets for seniors and students are $7. Group rates are available. For reservations, call 381-4864 or 381-9403.

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