Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
These days, if you want to know if someone’s “messing around,” all you have to do is go on Facebook. But in the world of the hotel sex farce, and believe me, there are a lot of them (Lend Me a Tenor, Don’t Dress for Dinner, Paradise Hotel, Hotbed Hotel, etc.), people still have to go through some pretty creative ways to hide their indiscretions.
Ray Cooney’s British political romp, Out of Order, was written in 1990, which now seems almost quaint, but it wasn’t really so long ago. The cheaters don’t even want Margaret Thatcher to know what’s going on! Now, if Mrs. Thatcher herself actually showed up, it would have been even more fun, but there are plenty of laughs to go around.
In a program note, Cooney is quoted from The Rules of Farce as saying, “It all looks so easy … but many an established actor has become unstuck playing farce. There are no beautiful, poetic monologues to hide behind. … The characters are not standing center stage, spot-lit, intellectualizing about their predicament. They’re rushing around dealing with it.”
At Endicott’s Cider Mill Playhouse, Out of Order is directed by Charles Burr, the artistic director of the Tibbits Summer Theatre in Michigan. He sees to it that none of his actors are “undone” by the task at hand, but I can see how easy it would be for that to happen. This ensemble clearly keeps up with who’s who and what’s what in what must be, for them, a Herculean mental challenge. But they all hang on and get us to the conclusion with aplomb. Very impressive.
Richard Willey, a Labour Junior Minister, is smarmily played Michael Muldoon. That’s a compliment, by the way. His character, using the excuse of an all-night Commons sitting to “step out” on his wife, plans to spend the night in a posh London hotel with the dishy, much younger Jane Worthington (Emily Mahoney), one of the opposition’s junior secretaries. She may not be smitten, but she’s enjoying the attention of the powerful pol.
One would think that the appearance of an apparently dead body would extinguish a little of the illicit passion, but that’s no fun, and Willey is determined not to let it ruin his night. Found in a funny place, the corpse is very floppily, and convincingly, played by Ian Penzel. This comedic device provides a great reason for plenty of the physical comedy that this kind of play depends on, and makes for some very funny antics in the hotel’s adjacent suites (one seen, one only alluded to).
Willey and his aide, George Pigden (Kevin Killavey), have about all they can do to hide the body, and they find some very creative ways, as playwright Cooney says, to “rush around and deal with it.” Killavey’s role gives the actor from Rhode Island the best opportunity to showcase his range, and he takes full advantage of it. His part gets funnier as the play progresses.
Further complications arise in the appearance of Willey’s oblivious, hormonal wife, Pamela, well done by Amy L. Smith in her Cider Mill debut, and by Ronnie, the very, very outraged husband of Jane. Michael O’Donnell’s fun interpretation of that uncomplicated character is hysterically over the top. He has to speak even louder as his biggest speech (during the Jan. 31 performance, anyway) came right in the middle of the freight train that dutifully rumbles by the playhouse at least once every show. It takes a focused actor to do that, and he pulls off his towel-only costume very well, too, in more ways than one.
Supporting actors Bob Finley as the tip-grubbing waiter, Ted Nappi as the bombastic and dogmatic hotel manager and Zarina Latypova as Gladys (George’s mother’s nurse) all do a wonderful job helping to pull the crazy threads of this show together. I remember Latypova from her similar role in BU’s Don’t Dress for Dinner. I love how she goes from frumpy to fabulous in a matter of seconds.
And don’t let me forget Richard Vollmer as The Maid! Usually lending his talents behind the scenes at the Cider Mill, Vollmer makes one perfectly hideous serving girl. He says very little, but his presence in drag is bigger than life and just right.
Lest I forget, Craig Saeger’s light and sound direction are just right, too, and key to the success of the show. How he gets a window sash in the suite to fall on cue is remarkable!
So for plenty of laughs and sight gags to lighten up this ridiculously long winter, head over to the Cider Mill for Out of Order.
The show will run 8:15 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m.Sunday through Feb. 23 at the Cider Mill Playhouse, 2 S. Nanticoke Ave., Endciott. Call the box office at 748-7363 to purchase tickets, or visit www.cidermillplayhouse.com.