Ray Cooney has long been considered one of the most successful practitioners of the French style farce on the English stage, winning himself the nickname “The English Feydeau” (the French master of the comedies of infidelity involving multiple doors, beds, and mistresses). In particular, Cooney’s Move Over Mrs Markham and Run For Your Wife (which ran for eight years on the London stage) are performed regularly by local theater groups looking to entertain the homefolks.
It can be tempting for a parent to collaborate with a child, and after Ray’s son Michael became a successful screenwriter, they came up with a joint project called Tom, Dick and Harry, which played on London’s West End to rather disappointing reviews. That work is now being presented by The Town Players of Newtown at Little Theater, under the direction of Gene Golaszewski.
Unlike his father, Michael Cooney doesn’t write about adultery. His Cash on Delivery — which the Town Players staged a couple of years ago — poked its fun at the bureaucratic tangle of the British welfare state, with Nick Kaye playing an enterprising fellow who compensates for having been made redundant from his real job, by collecting stipends under half a dozen false identities.
In this play, which also deals with multiplying efforts to con the authorities, Kaye plays Tom Kerwood, a law-abiding citizen whose attempts to prepare for an interview with the woman from an adoption agency are thrown into turmoil by the reckless and feckless strategems of his lunatic younger brothers, Dick and Harry.
While Tom’s wife Linda is out buying flowers to make their rented home seem idyllic, Dick barges in with a van loaded with illegal cigarettes, brandy and Albanian immigrants. Meanwhile Harry arrives with a garbage bag filled with body parts taken off cadavers, from the hospital where he works as an assistant porter. Dick’s plan is to get his brother some extra cash by selling the contraband to gangsters; Harry’s scheme is more imaginative: he wants to bury the body parts in the garden, in order to bring down the real estate values in the neighborhood. If the local carpenter working on a new addition should find “a dead body” buried there, Harry figures, it would lower the price of the house to the point where Tom and Linda could afford to buy it.
Their motives are pure and unselfish, but Tom watches as his pristine, baby-safe home is increasingly filled with cartons of untaxed stuff, bandaged body parts, and a now-drunken Albanian (he found the brandy) and his granddaughter.
How is Tom going to keep all this from Linda when she gets back? How is he going to explain it to the doddering police constable who is interested in the van parked outside because its doors are open and it has no tax stamp? How is he going to cope with the visit from the officious Mrs Potter from the agency?
Well, there are doors… there is a chest which opens… there are lies, which beget more lies, which beget more and more complicated lies… It’s the stuff of sitcoms, and at two hours in length that’s a long time to milk what are essentially the same jokes, again and again.
Kaye, as Tom, Christopher Cooney as Dick, and Bob Filipowich as Harry do a nice job with their delivery of the lies and obfuscations that come faster and more furiously with each new complication. Tom Torpey has fun as the drunken, kazoo playing, non-English speaking grandfather, Andreas, while Kiersten Henry makes the most of her role as his granddaughter, Katerina.
Angela Bowman is properly harried as Linda Kerwood, who can’t understand why she is continually being locked in the kitchen (while Tom attempts to hide the latest crisis), and Barbara Disraeli is good as the officious lady from the agency.
Daniel J. Mulvihill, Jr, long a veteran of area stages, makes the blundering policeman a definite lamebrain, while Stephen Ross is a menacing thug who doesn’t stand a chance against three Kerwood brothers with a bag of smelly body parts.
As I said, this is the stuff of sitcoms — and not the best sitcoms at that — but many in the audience seemed to enjoy it and laughed a lot during last weekend’s opening performances. The cast certainly puts a great deal of effort into entertaining them.
Performances will continue at The Little Theater, 18 Orchard Hill Road in Newtown, weekends until October 5.
Tickets are $20 for evening shows, $15 for matinee performances. Friday, September 20 is a benefit performance; call the theater for details about those tickets.
Reservations may be made by calling the box office at 203-270-9144 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information, visit www.newtownplayers.org or email email@example.com.