"Women in Jeopardy" -- ★ ★ ½
There's an ancient saying about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. That's not entirely true of Wendy MacLeod's farcical "Women in Jeopardy!," in its Chicago-area premiere at Oak Brook's First Folio Theatre.
MacLeod has penned some laugh-out-loud scenes that hint at the possibility of sharper satire below the silliness. But as it is, the play's best parts come courtesy of Janice L. Blixt's accomplished cast. The stars' perfectly timed delivery drives this tale of two divorced, middle-aged women who believe their best friend, whose husband left her for another woman, is unwittingly dating a serial killer.
"Women in Jeopardy!" touches on the resentment and pettiness than can sour even the best friendships, and it reflects the anxiety and fear that may bedevil women trying to remake their lives in middle-age.
The premise has promise. In fact, "Women in Jeopardy!" has the seeds of a nicely subversive farce. What are women willing to accept? Are some so reluctant to be alone they'd date a killer to avoid it?
But the play loses focus, particularly in the flimsy second act. And MacLeod relies on familiar tropes and types. Innuendo and jokes about cougars and menopause abound in a play whose characters include the requisite sardonic sophisticate, the ex-wife indulging her newly revived libido and the peacemaker determined to maintain the trio's equilibrium. There are also a couple of mellow millennials, a socially awkward officer and the oddball outsider.
We meet the titular imperiled women at the Salt Lake City home of well-meaning librarian Mary (Amy Montgomery). Mary's hosting girls' night -- one of several diversions, including book clubs and "fun runs," popular with middle-aged divorcees -- for wry publicist Jo (Lydia Berger Gray) and the unfettered, recent divorcee Liz (Melanie Keller). She has brought an unwelcome guest: her off-putting new boyfriend Jackson (Joe Foust), a local dentist whose young hygienist was abducted earlier that day and presumed murdered.
Suspicious of the eccentric Jackson (whom Foust plays like a horror film villain) and resentful of the amount of time Liz spends with him, Mary and Jo convince themselves he's a killer and resolve to break up the couple. Their efforts intensify when they learn Jackson is planning a camping trip to a remote location alone with Liz's 19-year-old daughter Amanda (a spot-on Hayley Burgess). Determined to save the teen from his clutches, the friends enlist help from Amanda's former boyfriend Trenner (the affably dim Christopher Vizurraga) and a quirky police sergeant Kirk (also played by Foust) who's investigating the hygienist's disappearance.
Misunderstandings, hurt feelings and (some) hilarity ensue with characters' actions increasingly becoming as silly as the plot.
Foust's timing and delicious deadpan delivery earn big laughs. Burgess and Vizurraga deliver the slightly nasal, slacker drawl characteristic of upper-middle-class teens.
As for Gray, Keller and Montgomery, they posses the comedic skills farce requires and then some. Unfortunately, MacLeod's script lets them down. Despite funny moments and hints at its more subversive possibilities, "Women in Jeopardy!" comes up short.
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Location: First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, (630) 986-8067 or firstfolio.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 25
Running time: About two hours, including intermission
Parking: Free lot adjacent to the estate
Rating: For mature audiences. Includes sexual situations, innuendo and adult language