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Scurry to see merry 'Run for Your Wife'

By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

Of all theatrical genres, farce is, arguably, the most difficult to pull off.

Its improbable situations, stereotyped characters, extravagant exaggerations and violent horseplay are all too easy to overdo, tiring the audience and exhausting the actors. It takes expert direction and a strong, capable cast to keep things under control while giving due measure to the art form.

Stage West Community Playhouse scores a near-perfect 9.9 for its main stage season opener, Run for Your Wife, a sex farce by British farcemaster Ray Cooney.

Director Harvey Lasky's eight cast members comfortably zip themselves into their zany characters and deliver merriment and mayhem like a mix of the Marx Brothers and the Keystone Kops.

The setup is London cabdriver John Smith's (Justin Sargent) unusual marital arrangement. Over here is his lovely wife, Mary (Laura Hardy). Over there is his lovely wife, Barbara (Jessica Suggs). John keeps up with both wives by juggling his work schedule and keeping a complicated code system in a small pocket note pad. CDWB? Cuddly Day With Barbara. MWMLWB? Morning With Mary Lunch With Barbara.

All goes well until John gets a knock on the head while helping a little old lady escape two muggers. Suddenly, he's a hero with a photo of him and Mary on the front page of the newspaper, which, to his chagrin, lands on the doorsteps of both wives.

How does the wily cabbie worm his way out of this mess?

Like any good worm: by digging himself and his helpful buddy Stanley Gardner (W. Paul Wade) in deeper and deeper.

Such riotous confusion demands precise word exchanges and perfect timing, and this cast delivers both. Unlike the split-screen, two-apartment set some productions use, Lasky opted to have one apartment and create the illusion of two apartments through skillful stage management.

Thus we have both households on stage at the same time, talking, walking and reacting completely oblivious to each other. It's a tricky stage device, but Lasky and his cast and crew make it work.

Another essential touch is authentic, consistent but unobtrusive English accents, thanks to dialogue coach Betty Sue Taylor. This is a British play with British sensibilities and references, and doing it in "American" wouldn't suffice.

Ultimately, though, the show is about performances, and that's where this show really shines.

Sargent is simply terrific as the two-wiving cabbie, doing the physical humor and tongue-twisting dialogue with enough force to be funny, but with enough finesse to be believeable.

Wade is a marvelous match as John's good pal, Stanley, with on-target facial expressions and rough-and-tumble actions that are laughable but not demeaning.

Bob Reece is outstanding as Detective Sgt. Troughton, with just the right amount of theatrical pomposity. It's a great contrast with Phil Hilton's gently nimble Detective Sgt. Porterhouse from a rival police district and is especially humorous when the two go toe-to-toe.

Kevin Miller puts a special spin on Bobby Franklyn, Barbara's gay neighbor. His brief, but outrageous appearances inspire John to greater heights of fabrication.

Ms. Hardy's Mary and Ms. Suggs' Barbara provide a perfect balance for the shenanigans going on around them. Mary is sweetly naive; Barbara is perversely petulant. Both are too trusting for their own good -- but it's that trust that makes John's prevarications and the play's premise possible.

Stage West has opened some past seasons with forgettable efforts (I'd list some, but I've forgotten them), but this year's clever and well-wrought opener is a sure winner and a keeper.

If you go

Run for Your Wife, a farce in two acts, runs through Sept. 22 at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $14. The box office is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and an hour before each show. Call (352) 683-5113.

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