Totem Pole makes its 'Bedfull' an effective farce

August 26, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Dave Freeman's "A Bedfull of Foreigners" is a farce about travelers for whom everything goes wrong. But just about everything goes right in Totem Pole Playhouse's production.

Set in a run-down French hotel near the German border on the eve of an arcane local festival, the action focuses on five hotel guests. Stanley and Brenda are a husband and wife on a vacation plagued by disasters. Claude is a businessman who is planning to spend a night with his mistress when his wife shows up unexpectedly.

Through the type of misunderstanding that sets a good farce in motion, all five are booked into the same hotel room, and, true to the title, at one point four of them end up wrestling in the same bed. Along the way, these ill-fated hotel guests get paired off in various combinations, several of which also include the hotel owner and porter.

The play is punctuated with double-entendres and the sort of silly remark typified by Claude's exclamation: "I never heard such rubbish," to which Stanley replies: "Well then, don't listen to it."

But trifling as all of this might seem, it's no trifling matter to write or produce an effective farce, and this one succeeds on both counts.

It does so, first, because the playwright has adhered to a basic rule of the genre: He has created a thoroughly logical framework. And, second, it succeeds because Totem Pole director Wil Love keeps things moving at a pace characterized not only by increasing speed, but equally important, by increasing desperation.

Love, a Baltimore actor who has starred in more than a few farces himself, clearly appreciates the seriousness with which this tricky form must be treated, and so does his adept cast. As the hyper hotel owner, Kraig Swartz, a newcomer to Totem Pole this season, has the hilarious ability to turn on a dime, changing from a passionate Lothario one moment into a conscience-stricken choirboy the next.

For that matter, several characters undergo comic personality changes, and though Swartz is the most skillful at conveying this, Peter Gregory Thomson does a funny turn as a stuffy- businessman-turned-roue, and Peter Borzotta is highly amusing as repressed Stanley, who becomes more and more enthusiastic as women persist in throwing themselves at him. In addition, Sherry Skinker is a hoot as the businessman's wife, running the gamut of farcical emotions from fear, frustration and humiliation to outrage and revenge.

As the businessman's mistress, a French cabaret dancer/stripper, Jan Puffer has a role with a less complex emotional range, but she handles it with an appropriately broad style. Stephanie Kraus' Brenda, however, and Richert Easley's hotel porter could benefit from a dose or two of Puffer's oomph.

In true summer-stock tradition, Totem Pole always schedules a farce or two, and the company's experience is delightfully demonstrated in this final production of the season. With summer rapidly drawing to a close, sharing a few hours with "A Bedfull of Foreigners" is like a mini-vacation.

'A Bedfull of Foreigners'

Where: Totem Pole Playhouse, 9555 Golf Course Road, Caledonia State Park, Fayetteville, Pa., 14 miles west of Gettysburg

When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, matinees 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays; through Sept. 4

Tickets: $12-$18

Call: (717) 352-2164

***

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