Thursday November 23rd 2017

“The Butler Didn’t!”

Often I am asked if there is theater to see in the burbs. Of course we are all familiar with the Marriott Lincolnshire and Drury Lane Oakbrook, the two giants in Suburban theater, and if one wants to travel to St.Charles, Pheasant Run keeps getting stronger and one of my favorites for south siders and downtown residents is in Munster Indiana,Theatre at The Center, but for those of you who have yet to discover the Metropolis Performing Arts Center in Arlington Heights, you do have a spot in the northwest suburbs. Over the last four years, I have seen this new center become stronger and stronger offering more choices of theater and concerts and a program for kids in drama, music and the arts.

While they have done musicals on their somewhat small stage, they are known for their comedy pieces and it seems they have mastered the art of the “farce’. Many years ago ( and I mean many) people would drive all the way to Marengo ( Shady Lane Farm Playhouse) to get away from the city and the congestion and just relax and watch farces such as “Up In Mabel’s Room”, “Getting Gertie’s Garter”, “Critics Choice” and others , most of them with Dale Benson making us laugh until tears rolled down our cheeks. That playhouse no longer exists and to bring this type of magic to the stage is not that easy. Well, Metropolis has found a local playwright, a resident of Palatine, Scott Woldman, a teacher, to bring us work that is designed to take our minds off the war, the economy and life in general. Theater is entertainment, but for many it is diversion- a chance to not think about all the stress that exists in our lives and Woldman’s new and original farce, “The Butler Didn’t!” hits the nail on the head.

The story is about a very wealthy old gentleman and his butler, Rick ( a strong and very athletic performance by Michael B. Woods, who appears to truly understand wat farce is) who is in reality a  jewel thief with a plan to steal the  Podmore”family Jewels” with his partner Ernesto ( a great comic turn by Richard Perez of Chicago Dramatists, who has expert timing a great face for an intimate theater such as Metropolis), but their plan to get away with 20 million dollars in jewels goes awry and what follows is 2 hours of pure laughter. The old man, Ezekial is married to a trashy gold-digger, Cassie ( the very sexy Jackie Trabilsy) who is hopeful that Ezekial will rewrite his will leaving everything to her and then kill him. His daughter Laura ( overplayed to perfection by Michelle Weissgerber) also has plans to do him in before he can change the will and take her out. Both of these women are being wooed by Rick so he can make sure he keeps his hand in the pie , so to speak.

The key to the farce is Ernesto and the brilliance of Perez who plays the “Hispanic trump card” throughout the performance. As the burglary plan hist snags, he is introduced to different characters as different characters: a landscaper and a  doctor and the mistaken identity to each of the other characters causes the confusion that makes this farce work. Ezekial ( played by David Belew, who ismore of a prop than an actor as he is thrown out of chairs and windows and in the second act, after it appears he might be dead, hoisted up to the second floor- hysterical!) The other players in this tightly woven cast include Ezekial’s attorney who has come to rewrite the will ( a charming character played by Elizabeth Dowling), but falls in love with Ernesto ( who also has the same feelings of her being part of his “destiny” ),  Dr. Becker ( Chuck Sisson) who has fogotten most of what he knows, but is brought in to make sure that Ezekiel is either fit or dead and a police officer (Chris Warren) who has no idea of what is going on, but truly likes the scenery presented to him as he meets Cassie, the trophy wife. If you want zany- this is it!

Hard to follow? Well, it was designed to be just that. farce is a lot of craziness, sexual innuendo, mistaken identities, door slamming, pants dropping and just plain fun- this is what “The Butler Didn’t” is, all of the above and while it may seem a bit racist when it comes to some of the comedy about Latinos, in the end, he is the big winner, so take it all with a grain of salt. After all, if we can’s laugh at stereotypes ( and every culture has done this for years), what can we laugh at? Brad Dunn’s direction of this eventful farce is sheer genius in that all of the timing is sharp and clean. There wee two little scenes where the actors are in the aisles instead of off-stage ( unseen) that would have worked just a bit better using the far aisles allowing better sight lines for the entire audience, but The Metropolis is a smaller, and more intimate theater and being that the real action is on the stage, these snippets have no effect on the overall solid production that will continue through April 17th., with performances:

Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.,Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets are$35-$43 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 847-577-2121 or online at www.MetropolisArts.com

The Metropolis Performing Arts Center is located in downtown Arlington Heights 111 West Campbell Street, with plenty of free parking and a number of restaurants in the area as well as a new Mexican Restaurant right next door – in fact you enter Mago Grill ( under the direction of Juan Luis Gonzalez) from the theater lobby. www.magodining.com

This is a typical farce with a set composed of lots of doors ( Thad Hallstein) and a long staircase and of course the window- these are places where actors run in and out and up and down with one going out as another goes in- that’s what farce truly is!  But I do not suggest bringing youngsters to this one- in fact  , I would suggest Juniors in High School and older.

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