Many theater audiences may recall the good old fashion farce. We were able to watch these on the stage at Shady Lane Farm Playhouse in Marengo, Drury Lane-Evergreen Park and of course The Forum Theatre in Summit and for many years, we knew that we would have two hours of non-stop laughter when attending these theaters. Over the years, as these theaters have left, these great comic evenings have left with them. Every once in awhile, one will creep in for a brief visit at The Metropolis, Theatre at The Center or The Royal George ( where Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me A Tenor” had a long stay, but to be honest, in our world today, we all need a good laugh and there are not just enough theater companies willing to take the risk. Well, thanks to the marvelous people at First Folio, the FARCE is back! And a very strong presentation indeed, of Paul Slade Smith’s side splitting “Unnecessary Farce”, a classical farce that is just making its Chicago area premiere. This hysterical play, which is now onstage at the marvelous venue used by First Folio, The Mayslake Peabody Estate, a charming spot to see a play in Oakbrook is the perfect diversion from everyday life. No matter how you are feeling as you enter the door, you will walk out with a smile on your face and a good feeling in your heart.
In doing a farce, the key is solid direction ( Allison C. Vesely) and a cast of players who understand how farce works. This cast, built around the master of farce, Dale Benson, is superb. Perfect timing for the slapstick, the looks, the pratfalls, and of course the use of doors ( there is always a great deal of opening and closing of doors in a good farce) as well as allowing themselves to be laughed at as well as with- these are the ingredients and each of these cast members makes the recipe one to savor.
The story itself, in a farce, is not of great import. It is the telling of the story and the events and mishappenings that make a farce hit you where it hurts- side-splitting laughter from start to finish.This story is about two inept police officers ,Eric ( Kevin McKillip) and Billie ( the adorable and very funny Erin Noel Grennan) are assigned to trap the mayor ( Benson, who still has the same energy he showed back in the old Shady lane days, and can still make a word or gesture feel like a monologue) into admitting that he is a crook. They are set up in adjoining rooms of a motel ( nicely designed by Angela Miller) and are using an accountant, Karen Brown ( the delightful Molly Glynn, who spends a lot of time undressing and falling into bed with many of the men) to bait the trap.
As in all farces, everything goes wrong and lots of mishaps take place with mistaken identities and for two hours, we the audience are caught up in this fast paced comical story. The other performers in this production are Raymond Fox ( who does some of the best straight-man turns and has perfect timing as the security agent for the mayor, The hysterical Joe Foust, who truly understands slapstick comedy) as Todd, who it turns out is involved in the real scheme of stealing the city’s money along with his boss, Big Mac, the head of the Scottish Mafia( there are some surprises with this character as well) and Jeannie Affelder as the Mayor’s wife, Mary Meekly ( who is also filled with surprises).
While I do not want to give away the surprises and strange twists and turns that Smith has built into this story, I will tell you that you will find each surprise one that will cause laughter to erupt from you ( even the quiet laughers, were laughing out loud) Ms Grennan, by the way is a scene stealer with her zaniness and Foust continues to prove that he can handle anything. If one did not know better, one might think that the playwright had hand-picked this cast to bring his words and story to life. As far as I am concerned, no one can improve on what is on the stage at First Folio, and I myself, who has not gone out to their theater often, will make sure that I do not miss anything they perform in this beautiful theater.
“Unnecessary Farce” will continue at Mayslake Peabody Estate located at 1717 West 31st Street in Oakbrook through March 4th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets range $30-$37 with discounts for seniors and students ( a great value for theater of this quality) and can be ordered by calling 630-986-8067 or online at www.firstfolio.org
The theater is located just off route 83. There is plenty of free parking and I suggest you come early so you can see this beautiful landmark, a 35 room Tudor Revival style mansion. It is interesting and fantastic to see theater in.