First Folio keeps the laughs coming in 'Unnecessary Farce'
Oak Brook-based First Folio Theatre has a hilarious hit in Paul Slade Smith's 2006 comedy "Unnecessary Farce," which is only now receiving its Chicago-area premiere.
Smith, a longtime Chicago actor now touring in the musical "Wicked," provides a gold mine of silly situations, and the folks of First Folio have a field day making all those embarrassing and exaggerated moments come vividly to life.
From its low-key start (when a police detective struggles with a phone cord while getting dressed) all the way to its frenzied finish (when the bad guy reveals the final joke behind the play's odd title), "Unnecessary Farce" delivers one great laugh after another.
The comedy follows a duo of police detectives who are trying to perform a hidden-camera sting operation in adjoining motel rooms. No U.S. city is specified, which is just as well since the two turn out to be so comically inept that any named police force would be tempted to sue for defamation.
Officers Eric Sheridan (an excitable and rubber-limbed Kevin McKillip) and Billie Dwyer (a delightfully dimwitted Erin Noel Grennan) are targeting the elderly Mayor Meekly (a convincingly befuddled Dale Benson), who is suspected of embezzling $16 million from city coffers.
Recruited to help draw out the incriminating testimony is no-nonsense accountant Karen Brown (a very amusing Molly Glynn), whose prim and proper facade falls not long after she and Officer Sheridan reveal their pent-up passion for each other. Her dignity also takes multiple hits when she and others are repeatedly spied by strangers and caught on camera in various states of undress and seemingly compromising sexual positions.
Just as the sting starts to look like it's falling apart, even more levels of city corruption get unexpectedly exposed. The mayor's security detail first throws a wrench into matters, with Agent Frank (an initially upstanding and earnest Raymond Fox) also taking a liking to Miss Brown and revealing that he's been involved in some shady dealings.
The intensity then ratchets up when a menacing and eccentric Scottish hitman named Todd (a hilarious Joe Foust with a frequently indecipherable brogue) comes onto the scene. Also facing potential peril is the mayor's wife, Mary Meekly (a sweet Jeannie Affelder), who wanders around trying to find her missing husband.
Director Alison C. Vesely shows a keen eye for making the difficult mechanics of a farce come off like clockwork. She's also blessed with a daring and versatile acting ensemble that isn't ashamed to go for broke in getting the verbal or extremely physical joke to land just right. (Fight choreographer Joe Foust is particularly deserving of praise, too.)
The only faults to be found with "Unnecessary Farce" are small ones, but they do threaten to take you out of the play's illogically logical world.
In all respects, scenic designer Angel Miller's anonymous dual motel-room set is picture prefect. But Miller's decision to feature louvered doors for the bathrooms doesn't jibe with the mechanics of the plot when people emerge from hiding and seemingly have no knowledge of the confrontation that just took place. Surely, those concealed characters could have listened in through the doors.
Slade must keep the simultaneous action going on in two separate rooms, which can be odd when some characters fall silent as the attention shifts to an intense struggle going on next door. Slade is also beholden to spoofing a Hollywood-style gun-standoff convention, which is a tad too cloying and self-aware when it goes on far too long.
But as with any farce, the audience has to let go of a degree of reality so that the silly shenanigans can unfold. Unlike some other suburban-produced farces of the past few years that didn't live up to their comic potential, "Unnecessary Farce" emerges as a bona fide gut-busting laugh-a-thon. If Slade's next announced play, "A Real Lulu," is as funny as "Unnecessary Farce," let's hope that First Folio (or another local theater) has plans to produce it.
"Unnecessary Farce"★ ★ ★
Location: Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, (630) 986-8067, firstfolio.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through March 4
Running time: 2 hours with intermission
Tickets: $30-$37 (discounts available for students and seniors)
Parking: Free nearby lots
Rating: Not for young children; strong language, comic sexual situations