REVIEW: Cash on Delivery (Saint Sebastian Players)

 

Spinning Plates

 

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Saint Sebastian Players present
   
Cash on Delivery
   
Written by Michael Cooney
Directed by
Jonathan “Rocky” Hagloch
at
St. Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey (map)
thru November 14  |  tickets: $10-$15   |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Identity theft is usually not the stuff of combustible comedy. But when it’s tied up with and results in mistaken identities, mixed signals, ill-timed interruptions and the rest of the detritus of classic farce, confusion can be critically comical. Michael Cooney, son of Ray (“Run for Your Wife”) Cooney, clearly learned from his father all the literal ins and outs of vintage farce with its slamming doors and self-fulfilling folly. The big difference here is that Cash on Delivery is no bedroom farce (though there’s some genuine confusion about supposed gay or cross-dressing activity). No, here the impetus is an elaborate and perilous fraud perpetrated by Chicago landlord Eric Swan against the Social Security Administration. It seems that the S.S.A. has inundated the opportunistic Eric with claims for a former tenant that, with a little scamming and false filings, mushroomed into $65,000 per year’s worth of multiple deceptions for unemployment, disability, medical and many other false benefits that this unemployed husband just didn’t have to courage or rectitude to decline.

Cash on Delivery - Saint Sebastian Players Of course, living a lie is a lot more taxing (so to speak) than sticking to the simple truth. It all threatens to elaborately unwind as Mr. Jenkins, a nerdy S.S. investigator, comes by for two simple signatures for some required paperwork. That’s all it takes for Cooney to unleash a flood of desperate cover stories as one lie contradicts another and Eric’s house of prevarication comes slowly tumbling down over the next 140 minutes. To pull off the crazed complications (which recall the excesses of Weekend with Bernie grafted onto Lend Me a Tenor) that eventually yield to the straightforward truth and a plausible happy ending requires the usual tour de force of timing, mugging, slow burns, costume switches, double faces, switcheroos, cover-ups, and other comic machinery.

Jonathan Hagloch’s ten actors pull off the shenanigans fairly well, with Greg Callozzo spinning the plates without dropping any (a metaphor taken from the old “Ed Sullivan Show”): Flagrantly and with multiplying mania, his Eric tries to keep his stories straight, with inept help from his upstairs tenant (busy Doug Werder). It helps that the other characters are credulous enough to be taken in by their sham show, most particular an increasingly hysterical Angela Bullard as Eric’s tormented wife, Michael Wagman as the nebbishy S.S. investigator, and Lyn Scott as his battleaxe supervisor. Jim Masini gets battered into unconsciousness as Eric’s venal uncle. The others play an overly helpful family crisis counselor, an officious undertaker, the neighbor’s frazzled fiancée, and a marriage counselor who adds his own befuddlement to this toxic mix.

With silly stuff like this, it’s more important to play it quickly than smoothly. Only in the overlong second act, where the playwright seems to be showing off his ability to keep the lies separate but equal, does the plot thicken into more turgidity than hilarity. But the audience never stops laughing throughout and that’s how you know a farce has force. You don’t have time to wonder why the S.S.A. makes house calls or a social worker can instantly arrange a funeral on the spot. The jokes come faster than any saving skepticism that might stop them in their tracks. Of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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REVIEW: Out of Order (Metropolis Performing Arts Centre)

Sidesplitting performance worth a trip to the ’burbs

OutOfOrder2 

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights, presents

Out of Order

 

By Ray Cooney
Directed by David Belew
Through Feb. 19 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

I don’t know who the first public official to be caught with his pants down was, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened before men even wore pants. No doubt, soon afterward, the event featured in a raft of dirty jokes. Like philandering politicians, low humor remains always with us, and sometimes even the highest minded of us can’t help laughing.

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s "Out of Order" is the funniest thing I’ve seen all year.

OutOfOrder4 Ray Cooney‘s routine bedroom-comedy plot promises much less than this production delivers. With his wife off in the country, suave Richard Willey, a Conservative junior minister in the British government, takes advantage of an all-night parliamentary debate to spend a naughty evening with Jane Worthington, a secretary on the staff of the opposition leader. Instead, they find a dead body in their hotel suite, and Willey calls on his ingenuity and his hapless parliamentary private secretary, George Pigden, to avoid a political scandal.

With the hotel’s supercilious manager, a venal waiter, Jane’s suspicious husband, a private detective and other characters all banging in and out through the suite’s door and malfunctioning window, that’s not so easy, and the fast-talking Willey and George are pulled into an ever more elaborate set of lies and camouflages. Cooney manages to be funny without becoming lewd, which, given the premise, is quite an accomplishment, but he doesn’t stretch the boundaries of this genre.

In fact, this farce has a strong similarity to other bedroom comedies by Cooney, who is best known for "Run for Your Wife" — some of the same characters even appear in ”Two Into One.” Yet, as with the comic but repetitious plots of Thorne Smith or P.G. Wodehouse, that’s a small matter if you don’t encounter them too close together. The script provides only a modicum of the humor, anyway.

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The huge hilarity of this production lies in the comic brilliance of the cast, in particular Michael B. Woods as the nebbishy George. At every turn of the plot, Woods expresses George’s appalled horror in each movement of his lanky frame and elastic, Munchlike face. The deft interplay between Woods and Andrew J. Pond’s glib, dry Willey is sidesplitting. As the tortuous plot twists its it way through abruptly disappearing corpses and unexpectedly appearing spouses, Woods just keeps getting better and better.

Sarah Tolan-Mee’s naively sexy Jane, Joe Messina‘s blustering manager and Chuck Sisson’s slow but opportunistic waiter also add notably to the impeccably timed humor. Patrick Tierney chews the scenery a bit as the rampaging Ronnie, but otherwise the cast, also featuring Amy Gorelow, Kevin Kurasch, Lisa Savegnago and Elizabeth Haley (who stood in for Nancy Kolton on opening night), never puts a foot wrong. Adam Veness’ posh hotel suite set, which includes such details as a working flat-screen TV, provides an ideal backdrop for Director David Belew’s dexterous staging.

Don’t miss this one — it’s absolutely worth a trip to the suburbs.

Rating: ★★★★

Notes: Adult themes and language. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is two blocks from the Arlington Heights Metra station and free parking is available in the municipal garage behind the theater.