‘Unnecessary Farce’ Does Bed Flips At Playhouse on Park

The most necessary skill, when performing in Playhouse on Park's "Unnecessary Farce," is the ability to do a somersault onto a hotel bed. This distinctive move is used during sex scenes, as a self-defense exercise and as a way to elude gun-toting villains.

Other handy maneuvers in this contemporary farce in West Hartford include being able to wrap yourself in bedsheets when you've lost most if your clothes, being able to open a door at the exact moment that someone else is closing one, and being able to speak with a gag around your mouth.

"Unnecessary Farce," by West Hartford native Paul Slade Smith, has been around for a decade and has been produced nearly 250 times, almost exclusively by small theaters rather than larger regional ones. Playhouse on Park has just the right size and attitude for the piece. There's plenty of room for the seven cast members, the eight doors they have to slam and the two beds they have to flip about on.

The plot, should it matter: Two barely competent police officers are staking out a hotel room in hopes of catching a politician they believe is embezzling city funds. By the time they realize that the crime is fundamentally different than what they expected, they've already had to hide themselves, disguise themselves, reveal themselves, lock themselves in and out of rooms, and engage in sex.

This sort of script is catnip for certain actors, and not just the loud, fast, exhibitionist type. While Will Hardyman (as Eric Sheridan) and Susan Slotoroff (as Billie Dwyer) are in constant motion — and constant states of anxiety — as the cops, Everett O'Neill (as Mayor Meekly) neatly underplays. When told that a trusted associate is a criminal, O'Neill seems genuinely pained; his delivery enhances the laugh. Likewise, Mike Boland (a local actor of great range) finds cuddly, vulnerable moments within a terse exterior. As the largest of a series of progressively larger men who parade through this show, John-Patrick Driscoll must be threatening while wearing a kilt and ranting in an impenetrable Scottish accent. 

Julie Robles brings a new dimension to a role self-described thus: "I keep undressing in front of people and I don't even know who they are." As an accountant who's helping the police set a trap, Robles avoids any number of stereotypes — ditzy, naive, vivacious — and acts as an ordinary woman might when caught in a series of extraordinary ecdysiastic situations.

In a well-done farce, even the turn of a doorknob can be funny. Scenic designer Christopher Hoyt makes sure the doors, and knobs, are prominently on display. Director Russell Treyz keeps the actors hopping: on beds, through doors, into each others' arms.

"Unnecessary Farce" mocks corruption, curious marital relationships, power abuse and sexist behavior. It may be seen as a necessary antidote to non-farcical real-life news events of recent weeks.

The bouncy mattress awaits.

"UNNECESSARY FARCE" by Paul Slade Smith, directed by Russell Treyz, is at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford, through Nov. 20. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., with an added low-price Tuesday matinee on Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30 to $40, $22 on Nov. 15. 860-523-5900, ext. 10, playhouseonpark.org.

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