British comedy travels well to U.S.

theater review

Farce about philandering MP is reworked into senator's tryst with a secretary to Pelosi

January 18, 2009|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Baltimore Sun

In their current production of Out of Order, the Bowie Community Theatre folks have moved British playwright Ray Cooney's 1990 comic farce about Parliament member Richard Willey's arranging a weekend tryst with secretary Jane Worthington from the British Parliament to today's U.S. Congress, where Richard now is a Republican senator and Jane a member of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's secretarial pool.

Cooney's familiar formula of exaggerated characters dealing with mounting confusion, mistaken identities, and interruptions of slamming doors and windows and misdirected phone calls travels well. Making the characters residents of Bowie and Crofton adds instant relevance.

Soon after checking into Suite 648 of a Washington hotel for a romantic evening with secretary Jane, Richard discovers a body caught in the balcony window. Richard summons his administrative assistant, George Pigden, a bachelor who dotes on his elderly mother who lives with him. George is assigned the task of removing the body and dispensing with other arising problems. These include a nosy hotel manager intent on protecting the hotel's image; a conniving waiter; Jane's jealous husband, Ronnie, who has hired a private detective to tail her; and frequent phone calls from George's mother's stern caregiver, Nurse Foster.

The nurse eventually appears at Suite 648 to become passionate Gladys, who has competition from Richard's wife, Pamela, who arrives to surprise her husband, but decides instead to seduce George.

Such farcical nonsense works only under an expert director, skilled in precise timing, who has found a troupe of actors who are adept at physical comedy and excel at comic timing and delivery of double entendres, and who are uninhibited exhibitionists, proud to reveal their well-toned bodies.

Director Douglas A. Hary proves up to the challenges, appreciating the ability of "farce to transcend the world, a social commentary without preconditions to give a moment's rest from the world outside." The cast delivers to produce a steady stream of laughter during the play's two hours.

Despite the Out of Order title, everything here is in superb working order as a result of the expertise of the unseen technical crew that rates high marks for raising and slamming the window on cue, swinging the closet door open to reveal a hanging corpse and expertly timed door knocking.

BCT veteran actor Jim Estepp plays Sen. Richard Willey with fervor toward Jane that turns frantic as crises arise and compound. Estepp's Richard is always seemingly in command, and he is almost constantly on stage, a skilled ensemble player interacting with all nine cast members. He is masterful in manipulating his assistant, George, played by James McDaniel, and the interplay with him provides first-rate comic acting between well-matched pros.

George, initially a mama's boy, is transformed by his encounters with Gladys and Pamela into a formidable love object who develops a new assertiveness.

As the enterprising waiter, Rich Fogg relishes every opportunity to earn tips for providing a string of services that include retrieving Jane's dress, furnishing pants and jacket for an inebriated fellow so he can attend another party and providing a wheelchair for him to travel on the elevator.

Rick Hall plays "the body" that appears dead and returns to life. Hall is quietly limp as "the body" carried to the closet and hung on the door, and amusing when his pulse returns and his memory doesn't. Suffering from amnesia, he suspects he might be the private detective Ronnie hired to spy on his wife.

As secretary Jane, Heather Gaither-Greek displays a fine sense of comic timing and a svelte body. Her crazed husband, Ronnie, is played by Nick Greek (Gaither-Greek's husband), who is over-the-top funny and also shows some skin.

Sherry Fogg (Rich Fogg's wife) adds to the comedy as Richard's impulsive wife, who invites some dalliance with George. Vicki Hartford undergoes her own transformation from stern Nurse Foster into an aroused Gladys under George's spell.

Jim Murphy plays the hotel manager, and Jennifer Harvey is cast as the maid.

BCT lists Out of Order as "for mature adults only." The show continues with a matinee at 2 p.m. today and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For information, www.bctheatre.com. To reserve seats, call 301-805-0219. BCT suggests arriving at the theater half an hour before the show to pick up tickets, which must be paid for by cash or check.

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