SHERMAN — Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive…
People often attribute this quote to Shakespeare, but actually it comes from Sir Walter Scott (who most people have never read). In any case its thrust was meant as a serious warning, but it applies just as well to certain types of comedy. The French have bestowed on playwright Ray Cooney the affectionate label “The English Feydeau,” meaning he is a practitioner of the kind of bawdy farce in which men frantically cook up more and more elaborate lies in order to cover up their marital infidelities: Move Over Mrs Markham, Not Now Darling, and especially Run For Your Wife, which was a hit on London’s West End for eight years, back in the 1980s.
The multi-talented Francis A. Daley has chosen to explore the possibilities for laughter inherent in Cooney’s work with The Sherman Players production of Run For Your Wife, acknowledging in the playbill for the current production that while it has no more social significance than The Rocky Horror Picture Show it should at least offer some respite from today’s news headlines.
The plot and its complications revolve around John Smith, a bigamous London cab driver who is secretly juggling two households in the neighboring boroughs of Wimbledon and Streatham. One wife thinks he is working the night shift, which explains why he is gone all night, while the other wife assumes he drives during the day. But when a minor accident sends Smith to the hospital for an overnight stay, each woman calls her local police station to report a missing husband, and the hospital registers both their addresses, setting in motion a spiraling tangle of complications.
As two police detectives begin separate investigations of Smith’s circumstances, the beleaguered cab driver asks his unemployed upstairs Wimbledon neighbor to cover for him. Multiple lies lead to wilder and weirder scenarios as they attempt to keep the policemen satisfied and the wives in the dark.
Leif Smith’s beautifully designed and constructed set portrays a single apartment, but with separate telephones to represent the fact that it is actually two different places. When Mary’s phone rings, we’re in Wimbledon; when Barbara’s does, it’s Streatham. Even when they are both on stage at the same time, they don’t see or hear one another.
Daley has assembled a stellar cast, and directs them so that they perform with the kind of split second timing that this kind of comedy demands. Martin Rosato is a cheerful fool as the irrepressible Smith, while Kelly McMurray and Sara Panaccio portray the dimwitted suspiciousness of the wives who are beginning to believe that there is something cockeyed about the stories they are hearing.
David Fejes and Jeff Solomon are an interesting contrast as the two detectives. Narrow-eyed Fejes smells a rat, and is determined to uncover wrongdoing, while the kinder and gentler Solomon is happily ready to put on an apron and dispense cups of tea while he plays marriage counselor.
I particularly enjoyed Fred Rueck, who has a magnetic presence as Stanley, the upstairs neighbor, who while happily sponging on the government, is willing to go to almost any lengths to be helpful. Also, Newtown’s Michael Wright — in a departure from his more recent work on local stages — plays a limp-wristed, kimono-clad queen who lives upstairs from the Streatham apartment, who comes down to gossip and talk décor with Barbara — showing what a versatile actor he is.
And this brings up my one caveat about the show: it’s very funny as performed here. The audience was frequently rolling with laughter, in fact. But as the lies lead to more and more pretenses, the humor in the second act revolves almost entirely around homosexual stereotyping, and the preposterous idea that Smith and Gardner might be gay, a ridiculous and appalling notion in the context of the play.
It’s definitely not politically correct, but then I guess it comes down to what you find offensive. As a friend pointed out, the play was never meant to be realistic, and it’s set back in the Thatcher era of the 1970s, when these attitudes were the norm.
I wouldn’t take the kids to see it, but adults looking for an evening’s entertainment should get their money’s worth here, especially given the quality of the acting and Daley’s sure-handed direction.
(Performances continue at The Sherman Playhouse, 5 Route 39 North in Sherman, weekends until April 27. There is one Sunday matinee scheduled, for April 14.
Call 860-354-3622 or visit ShermanPlayers.org for additional information and reservations.)