Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010

Carte Blanche's NOT NOW DARLING

Comedy Slowed By An AC-less Opening Night

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The second in Carte Blanche Studios’ Summer of Farces is Not Now, Darling--another by Ray Cooney. While it feels like a bit of a slow mover, the ensemble brings enough fun to the stage to make Cooney’s 1967 comedy entertaining throughout.

The stage is set very similarly to the way it was for Carte Blanche’s last farce Out of Order . . . which means that many of the structures have been used for three different productions now. The same closet has been used to store a concussed gentleman presumed dead in Out of Order, a cow repeatedly sold for magic beans in Sparkling Orange Soda’s The Wolf, The Princess and the Revolver, and now several bottles of alcohol and a couple of semi-clad women for the current farce.

Michael Keiley plays Gilbert Bodley—co-owner of Bodley, Bodley and Crouch--an upscale fur store. Bodley is looking to have an extra-marital affair with Janie McMichael (Laura Holterman) and has arranged the gift of a fur in order to do so. Saddled with the task of selling said gift to McMichael’s husband who will, in turn, give it to Janie unwittingly on Bodley’s behalf, Bodley’s partner Arnold Crouch (Paul Terkel) is very uncomfortable. He’s a forthright, upstanding, young man who doesn’t want to be the instrument of an affair. Suffice it to say, things get complicated.

Keiley’s fun as Bodley. As Bodley goes from one uncomfortable situation to the next, Keiley is able to maintain a sense of composure and tension. The trick is to react enough to what’s going on to ratchet up the comic tension without exaggerating so much that the momentum of the plot becomes unbalanced. Keiley does a pretty good job of this throughout, but as the character develops very little depth over the course of the plot, Keiley doesn’t have much else to do here and the character comes off more than a bit flat.

Arnold Crouch is actually given something of a character arc here. He starts off as a moralistic gentleman who gradually becomes corrupted in the course of the story as deception leads to obfuscation and back to deception again and so on . . . Paul Terkel comes away with a frightfully clever performance as a result. Terkel moves gracefully from one awkward moment to the next as Crouch gets lost in the complexity of things. His comic timing is well-placed and his amplification of the character’s nervousness early on make his the central journey in the production. With his being the one real transformation over the course of the farce, the production could benefit from Terkel ratcheting up the intensity of his nervousness considerably. It’s far from a flat performance, but as it tends to be the central tension driving everything to complexity, greater nervousness on the part of crouch could hold down the center of the farce that much better.

While they may not have been perfectly up to speed opening night, the cast has some great moments. Lindsey L. Gagliano maintains a sweetness as the shop’s assistant Miss Tipdale that isn’t at all compromised by the character’s apparent amusement at her employers’ distress. Jennifer Gaul has striking poise as Bodley’s wife. She’s returned from holiday quite unexpectedly and seems to suspect something is going on. Her clarity in the role is brought to focus with some of the best costuming in the production.

Everyone else in the show gets some small comedic angle to work. For Holterman in the role of Janie, it’s a very mercenary attitude towards the affair and some very physical bits of comedy with Keiley and Terkel. For show’s director Jimmy Dragolovich, it’s the opportunity to also play Janie’s subtly sinister husband. Emily Craig plays the secretary with whom Mr. McMichael is having an affair. Craig has manages a degree of savvy in the role of a rather slow girl . . . and she’s fun as a comic drunk near the final curtain.

The cast maintains a fairly enjoyable comedic velocity throughout the production, but the farce still feels a bit slower than the usual farce. This may have had something to do with the fact that the air-conditioning wasn’t working opening night. Stage lights are overpoweringly hot, but even when the actors were backstage opening night, there wasn’t any AC to cool down with. Many of the women in the production do find themselves wearing lingerie throughout the production, which probably helped matters, but the plot also required them to wear heavy furs quite often, which would’ve made matters worse. The more comfortable space that will come with the very next performance (Carte Blanche will rectify the AC situation today) should work wonders at speeding things-up.

Carte Blanche theatre’s production of Not Now Darling runs through August 15th.

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