Review: The Butler Didn’t! (Metropolis Performing Arts)

     
     

Jewel heist hits familiar farce notes

     
     

'The Butler Didn't!' by Scott Woldman - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

   
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
   
The Butler Didn’t!
   
Written by Scott Woldman
Directed by Brad Dunn
at Metropolis Arts Centre, Arlington Heights (map)
through April 17  |  tickets: $35-$43  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

For anyone who doesn’t look closely at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s promotional materials for its new comedy The Butler Didn’t!, it would be easy to miss that key little word: “new.”

It isn’t. Resident playwright Scott Woldman’s mansion-crime-caper is a venerable checklist for a theatrical form that’s seen its heyday come and go, unabashedly marking off the requisite +5 doors, spastic pace, ‘uh-oh’ twists, and ludicrous premise. Expectedly, the women are sex-obsessed, the men are idiots, and the title-butler is a combination of both. Splash in a little of Neil Simon and a bit of Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid, and you have a sense of the universe where con-artist and faux-Brit butler Rick resides.

'The Butler Didn't!' by Scott Woldman - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington HeightsThat’s not necessarily a bad thing. Woldman’s play admittedly doesn’t do much to forward farcical conventions; at times, the lack of audacity is frustrating–it feels like some of the stones laid by the show’s nontraditional darker tone are left unturned–but as it stands, his comedy is fit to sit comfortably alongside more recognizable staples.

Rick (Michael B. Woods), alongside his wise-cracking, why-does-the-Hispanic-always-have-to-be-the-landscaper side-kick Ernesto (Richard Perez), is in the final phase of his Job to End All Jobs at the Podmore estate. With his billionaire boss (David Belew, capable, albeit a little young) asleep upstairs, Rick and Ernesto take a crack at the safe, before (of course) all hell breaks loose. Lies cover lies, mischief proceeds mischief, and innuendo occurs just about everywhere else.

Situational comedy is usually dependent on characters’ perception of high stakes in low-stakes circumstances, a discrepancy only seen by the audience. Suspension of disbelief is mandatory when viewing anything that aims for ‘wacky,’ and The Butler Didn’t! sacrifices some of those required stakes by asking for more than its fair share. Say, when Mr. Podmore’s lawyer, Anna (Elizabeth Dowling) goes gaga at the sight of Ernesto, it’s challenging to stay invested. One second she’s a menacing professional capable of shutting down the entire operation; the next, she’s nearly orgasming in her pant suit. In farce, tinkering too much with plausibility downgrades the humor, an offense both Woldman and director Brad Dunn commit.

     
'The Butler Didn't!' by Scott Woldman - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights 'The Butler Didn't!' by Scott Woldman - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

The silliness is so-so, and like most farces, it could shave off half an hour. When the Metropolis allows itself to push the envelope a bit, however, the true potential of The Butler Didn’t!’ emerges. At the performance I attended, the audience was more receptive to riskier jokes. Perhaps the Metropolis doesn’t want to offend the sensibilities of its ticket holders. Restraint is admirable; big scores require going all in.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

'The Butler Didn't!' by Scott Woldman - Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights

     
     

Continue reading

REVIEW: Blithe Spirit (Steel Beam Theatre)

A spirited show in the suburbs

 

blithe

 
Steel Beam Theatre presents
 
Blithe Spirit
 
By Noël Coward
Directed by Terry Domschke
Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main St., St. Charles(map)
Through May 2 tickets: $23-$25  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Theaters may be fewer and farther between than in Chicago, but such companies as Steel Beam Theatre, Writers’ Theatre and Metropolis Performing Arts Centre continue to show that there’s culture in the suburbs. As airy as an unseen specter, Steel Beam’s Blithe Spirit is a frightfully good time.

blithe%20daily%20herald%20text700_rightTerry Domschke directs a delightful production, full of deft touches. Everything from the carefully arranged period drawing-room set to the clever costumes shows a fine attention to detail. Produced in three acts with two intermissions, just as it would have been in at its 1941 London opening, it makes you understand why the original ran for 1,997 performances amid World War II. The timing could be a trifle more brisk, but that’s quibbling.

Noël Coward’s keen and cutting wit shines in this delectable play. The plot centers on novelist Charles Condomine and his second wife, Ruth, a flippant and debonair couple who invite the local psychic for dinner and a seance. They, and their other guests, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, are skeptics: The evening is merely a ruse to provide background for Condomine’s upcoming book.

But the medium, Madame Arcati, turns out to be the real thing. She accidentally conjures up Condomine’s deceased first wife, Elvira, who refuses to go away again — turning the Condomine household into an otherworldly menage a trois.

Orange-haired, behatted and draped in necklaces, Donna Steele’s marvelous Madame Arcati galumphs around the stage, jingling, in colorful costumes and comic triumph — at turns fussy old woman and majestic mystic — emanating palpable glee at each spiritual manifestation.

R. Aaron Thomann is ever so urbane as Charles, stirring up martinis and placating his live and ghostly wives with wonderful expressiveness. At first convinced he’s going mad, he selfishly comes to appreciate having his first wife’s witty shade on the premises … at least until the dead woman’s real purpose for reanimating becomes apparent.

steel-banner Elvira isn’t the kind of ghost who clanks about in chains and a sheet. She’s ethereally lovely and sharp as knives. Although only Charles can see her, the ghostly lady still manages to infuriate the priggish Ruth, who becomes bent on exorcizing her spirited rival.

Jocelyn Mills plays an effervescent Elvira, glittering with ectoplasmic makeup and always ready with a riposte. Katherine Bettinghaus provides counterpoint as a fuming, but elegant, Ruth, although her emotional scenes sometimes seem a little forced. Meredith Koch offers some fine comic turns as the inept maid Edith, hurrying and scurrying, while Thom Reed and Nancy Kolton fill out the cast as the stolid Bradmans.

Blithe Spirit may be Coward’s frothiest comedy, an ethereal confection of a play. While it’s become something of a period piece, there’s life in the old ghost yet — as Steel Beam Theatre’s hilarious production shows.

 

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

blithe-letting