Mishaps at breakneck speed

Review: 'Flaming Idiots' derives comedy from pace, energetic cast

It has been observed that farce is tragedy sped up, and that could apply to Lawrence Community Theatre's production of "Flaming Idiots," in which potentially appalling mishaps are transformed into comedy by being played at breakneck speed.

It's almost exhausting to watch the cast, ably directed by Charles Whitman, as they bungle their way to a last-minute happy ending. Farce requires continual entrances and exits, mistaken identity, misunderstanding, and knockabout physicality, and all are in plentiful supply in this play.

The story is simple but bizarre: Two ex-postal workers who know nothing about food service open a restaurant, hiring a chef and waiter as afterthoughts. Lack of business prompts them to organize a mock murder in the restaurant, hoping for greater visibility. Problems ensue: a deaf-mute chef, an incompetent hit-man, an untimely policeman -- the list goes on. Forget the unlikeliness of it all, and enjoy the characters' anguished efforts to deal with it all.

Mark Mackie plays Phil, a would-be restaurateur, with the same desperate energy as the would-be hotelier in "Fawlty Towers." He projects the character's mindless determination to succeed despite the collapse of virtually every aspect of his business venture. His partner, the hapless Carl, is played with a sweet innocence by Brent McCall. Carl is comically over his head from the opening scene onward, and McCall shows him veering easily from manic anxiety to blissful unawareness and back.

Dan Spurgin as Task, a mounted policeman, throws himself into the role with loose-jointed abandon. Every scene he plays is entertaining, whether blithely ignoring the evidence of crime or pursuing his unrequited love for the chef. Barbara Johnson plays the role of the chef, a major presence onstage despite the character's deaf-mute handicap. Her silent stage business creates an island of sanity in the restaurant's mad environment, and her rag-doll flexibility heightens the effectiveness of the fast-paced physical action.

Louie, the hit-man hired to bring notoriety to the restaurant, is played with commanding stage presence by Don McIntyre. He makes credible the character's unlikely combination of assassin and Alzheimer's, and nothing -- including calmly dipping his own tie in his coffee -- disturbs his poise and gravitas.

Aisha Wolgamott gives a nice comic turn as Jayne, an officious and self-absorbed reporter, who never notices her wardrobe malfunction that the rest of the cast can't take their eyes from. She also plays a brief drunk scene to perfection. Daniel Studley takes the role of her principal admirer, Ernesto, a Spanglish-speaking "Norwegian." Studley projects a single-minded stolidity that validates the character's questionable background.

Steve Nelson rounds out the cast, playing an aspiring actor who's temporarily waiting tables. His impromptu Shakespearean rehearsal in the kitchen makes comically clear that continued waiting is more likely than acting.

Jack Riegle once again creates space out of nothing with his set, adding an office and walk-in refrigerator (with convincing doors) to the main stage's kitchen. Annette Cook's costumes suit each character perfectly and show remarkable attention to detail. Dru Goulden's lighting works well, from the dimness of the walk-in to the cheerful workspace of the kitchen, and Jeff Blair as stage manager and assistant director keeps things running smoothly.

Prepare not to mind the tissue-thin plot, typical of farce; prepare instead to enjoy two hours of antic energy. This cast leaves it all on the stage.


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