Farce. n. A light dramatic composition marked by broadly satirical comedy and improbable plot.

This afternoon we went out to the Rep East Playhouse (REP) in Saugus, CA to see two one-act farces. As usual, REP did a wonderful job with the plays.

The first, The Real Inspector Hound is a short play by Tom Stoppard. The play starts as you watch two pretentious and semi-prestigious theatre critics watching one play, who seem to be more taken up with their own agendas than with the play. What they are watching is a spoofy, by-the-numbers, overacted murder mystery onstage. The critics are the second-string critic for a London newspaper, Moon, who is obsessed with his position in the journalistic hierarchy, while Birdboot, who works for a different paper, chews chocolates and proclaims his famed objectivity as he prepares to praise to the skies the performance of the actress playing Felicity, who is young beauty he just happened to have supped with the night before. He later become enamored of Lady Cynthia Muldoon, a drama queen extraordinaire with a body to match. Neither critic is exactly taken with the routine drama, which touches all the usual bases and includes all the usual suspects generally employed in the genre, which doesn’t prevent them from uttering high-flown, patently meaningless critiques. At one point, however, the stage phone keeps ringing, unanswered. This unnerves the critics, and one of them answers the phone. This then draws them into the play, which suddendly make real life both a stage and a farce.

The second play was Black Comedy by British dramatist Peter Shaffer (Equus). The play is more of a traditional farce set in a London flat during an electrical blackout, and is written to be staged under a reversed lighting scheme: that is, the play opens with a dinner party beginning on a darkened stage, then a few minutes into the show “a fuse blows”, the stage lights come up, and the characters are seen shambling around apparently invisible to one another. The plot is well described in the cited Wikipedia entry: suffice it to say that it has all the elements of a farce: split-second timing, a pretty lady running around only in lingerie, mistaken identities, odd accents, and broad physical comedy. It was really the stronger of the two pieces.

The cast featured Amber Clark (Felicity/Carol Meklert), George D. Cummings* (Birdboot/Harold Gorringe), Damian d’Entremont* (Simon/Schuppanzigh), Gaynor Kelly* (Mrs. Drudge/Miss Furnival), Tervor Kimball* (Moon/Brindsley Miller), Daniel Lench* (Magnus/Colonel Melkett), Mikee Schwinn (Inspector Hound/Georg Bamberger), and Nicole White (Cynthia/Clea). The production was directed by Barbara Hungtinton (a Pasadena Playhouse alumni), assisted by Car0line Morgan. Nanook did the sound design, and Katie Mitchell did the set design.

What did I think of the show. First, I thought that Nicole White looked a lot like what kuni_izumi will look like in a few years. In terms of acting, I thought they all did an excellent job. Farce is tricky to pull off, as it takes a lot of split-second timing, and the ability not to crack up while you’re doing what you’re doing. It is not the type of acting that requires nuances of facial expressions (as one sees in musicals): it calls for broad physical comedy, often overplayed. This is what they did, and did very well.

For more pictures and another assessment of the performance, here’s the review from the Santa Clarita Signal.

Next up at the REP is the drama Proof by David Auburn. This play won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play. The play concerns Catherine, the daughter of Robert, a recently deceased mathematical genius and professor at the University of Chicago, and her struggle with mathematical genius and mental illness. Upon her father’s death, his ex-graduate student discovers a paradigm-shifting proof about prime numbers in his office. The title refers both to that proof and to the play’s central question: Can Catherine prove the proof’s authorship? Along with proving the proof, the daughter also finds herself in a relationship with 26-year-old graduate student. Throughout, the play explores Catherine’s fear of following in her father’s footsteps, both mathematically and mentally. It should be quite good. It runs September 22 through October 28.

For us, it is a break for vacation in the San Francisco/Sacramento area. If you’re on my friends list, you can see our planning–if not, give a shout here because we’d love to meet you. I’m not sure about theatre on the trip: Kiss of the Spider Woman is at New Conservatory Theatre, but it might be too intense for an 11½yo, given its subject matter. I don’t see anything else of interest on the Goldstar Listings, but if you have a suggestion, let us know.

When we return, it is Curtains at the Ahmanson on August 26th; followed by Fences (starting Laurence Fishburne and Angela Basset) at the Pasadena Playhouse on Sept. 23rd. I also am thinking about tickets to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in Orange County in early September, but that might not pan out either (it depends if Goldstar puts them up). As noted above, we’re also planning to see proof at the REP, but we haven’t purchased tickets yet.

*: Member of Actors Equity Association