Comedy/Farce is a tricky genre to do well. Many theatre companies in America have tried to mount successful productions over the years but, somehow, they always come up short. To do the genre well, theatrical companies need trained, gifted actors and directors to fill the roles of crazy, deluded, egomaniacal, hyper-active, and child-like characters, and do it with style, elan, and relish the experience above all. That’s a large wish-list of requirements that have to be fulfilled.
I’m happy to report that such a needs list is no problem for the cast of talented theatre professionals currently trodding the boards of the North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT) production of playwright Nagle Jackson’s comedy/farce “At This Evening’s Performance”.
Wonderfully directed by Andrew Barnicle, the production boasts some of Southern California’s finest comedy actors, some of whom are familiar to audiences of NCRT. Director Barnicle, also a fine actor who was last seen by NCRT audiences in “Faded Glory” and the popular “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Great Nome Gold Rush”, gathers a cast of solid farceurs who know what to do on stage when they find themselves in a farce.
Playwright Jackson sets his play-with-a play format in the fictional country of Dunsk, a totalitarian regime somewhere in the Balkans under the autocratic rule of Minister of Cultural Affairs Pankoff (John Nutten). The story revolves around a second-rate acting company owned by harried husband and actor Gunther Posnik (Bruce Turk) and his bored actress wife Hippolyta Posnik (Katie MacNichol). Turk and MacNichol are a Balkan version of the ‘Battling Bickersons’. Their first goal, however, is to avoid offending the state cultural affairs minister Pankoff. If they do, they risk being placed on his ‘list’, a list no one wants to be on. Their second goal is to keep the company together and performing until their talents will be recognized resulting in the company being named the State Theatre of Dunsk. The theatre has been waiting for years to be discovered. But hope springs eternal in Dunsk.
In addition to Turk, MacNichol, and Nutten, the production is also blessed with actors Paul Turbiak as Piers, who plays the romantic leading man roles, Richard Baird as Valdez, the menacing, intense, and crazed stage manager who constantly intimidates the actors, Kyle Colerider-Krugh as Oskar, plays the old man parts with terrific comedy timing, and the lovely Sierra Jolene as the ingénue Saskia, who has romantic liaisons with anyone who can be of help to her in her career. Ahh, for the life of the itinerant actor back in the 1970’s …but just not in the country of Dunsk.
There are plot echoes of the old Jack Benny 1942 movie “To Be, or Not, To Be” with Carole Lombard as the theatre company owners, and the 1983 Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft movie remake that will jog your memories, if you’re old enough. Director Barnicle cleverly co-opts the basic premise and then adds his inspired directorial touches allowing his talented ensemble cast to strut their stuff.
In farce, there are always romantic and passionate liaisons where loyalties change at the drop of a hat. Then there are the hush, hush meetings, slamming of doors, and secrets to be revealed. The play is a goofy, but affectionate, send-up of actors and acting where the on-stage characters deliver their lines in stentorian, over-the-top-declamatory and hammy performances, but back in their ‘dressing room’ the dialogue is fast, furious and hilarious. Timing, it’s been said cannot be taught. Either, one has it or not. In this production everyone has it.
It’s a thing of beauty to behold when a cast of professionals are really ‘cooking’ up on the stage. Sorry, but no spoiler alerts here where character antics are rampant and sometimes just plain silly. You must come and see for yourself. My advice is to just let the silliness and fun of the production wash over you. You’re not watching a play about discovering radium or a mystery that needs constant engagement and focus. It’s a farce production and a damn funny one. Enjoy. You’ll leave the theatre refreshed and entertained.
In the technical department the creative team led by director Barnicle features the technical wizardry of set designer Marty Burnett, and lighting designer Matt Novotny, who deliver a “green room” backstage area where the actors let their hair down and needle one another with sparkling dialogue. When the characters have to perform “on stage”, the magic happens and the audience becomes part of the production, so to speak.
The costume designs of Elisa Benzoni are spot on; colorful and functional, except for Turk’s prop mustache that keeps (intentionally) falling off, and Oskar’s fake ears that keep turning up in the oddest places. It’s a farce remember. The sound design is by Aaron Rumley, with props design by Andrea Gutierrez, and Hair and Wig design by Peter Herman complete the technical team.
“At This Performance”, now on stage at North Coast Repertory Theatre is an excellent example of what a farce production can be in the hands of professional, talented actors and a creative director. The play runs through August 6, 2017.