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Vol. LXI, No. 26
 
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
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Music/Theater


OFF MY SCHEDULE!: Taxi driver John Smith (Steve Lobis, left), secretly married to two women, checks out his complicated calendar with neighbor and confidant Stanley (Gavin Lawrence), as the chaos and zaniness escalate in Ray Cooney's "Run for Your Wife" at Off-Broadstreet Theatre in Hopewell, weekends through July 21.

One Confused Taxi Driver + His Two Wives = Madcap Comedy In “Run for Your Wife” at Off-Broadstreet Theatre in Hopewell

Donald Gilpin

Run for Your Wife by Ray Cooney, virtuoso of the British Bedroom comedy and master farceur of London’s West End (where Run for Your Wife ran for over 3400 performances, 1983 to 1992), is playing at the Off-Broadstreet Theatre in Hopewell on weekends through July 21. The “dessert theatre,” under the direction of Robert and Julia Thick, offers an impressive array of delicious cakes, pies, and fruits to accompany its dramatic fare, but there is nothing on the dessert table to rival the frothiness of the menu on stage in Mr. Cooney’s zany and popular farce.

So do you want the highbrow or the lowbrow perspective? Both are provided below. You can skip to the second half of this review if you’d like to bypass the intellectual and aesthetic commentary.

The Highbrow Perspective

The plot of Run for Your Wife is silly, implausible and both too inane and too complicated to recount in detail. London taxi driver John Smith (Steve Lobis) maintains two marriages and two households, with Mary Smith (Alison Quairoli) in Wimbledon and Barbara Smith (Amy Locane) four and a half minutes away in Streatham. As the play begins, John has just been injured in a mugging incident, spent the night at the hospital, been reported missing by both wives and fouled up his precariously balanced schedule of tending simultaneously to his two marriages.

The police (Todd Gregoire and John Grewen) arrive to investigate, and the absurdities proliferate, along with the outrageous punning, the weak jokes, and the reliance on an array of stereotypes: the gay neighbor (Michael Iacovelli), the lusty wife, the bumbling detectives.

There is no character depth or development. For humor, Mr. Cooney depends on double entendres, mistaken identities, and outrageous misunderstandings. Relying on the audience’s suspension of disbelief is an essential requirement in all theater, but the implausibility here is monumental. Don’t ask how John managed to marry two different women while pursuing his London cab-driving career, or why two lovely ladies would end up with this bumbling fellow, or how John could, for years, successfully deceive these relatively intelligent women, or how and why the police detectives could be so gullible or so interested in John’s predicament. There is no literary, intellectual, moral, or aesthetic merit intended or delivered here, no theme or lesson learned — except maybe that you shouldn’t have more than one wife, or, if you do, then be prepared for a lively day or two if any mishap disrupts your schedule. Mr. Cooney’s most noteworthy accomplishment is that he can sustain the foolishness for almost two hours, including intermission.

The Lowbrow Perspective

Run for Your Wife is an extremely funny play, and Off-Broadstreet provides a highly entertaining evening. Mr. Thick, with his superb cast, succeeds in bringing out the hilarity of all of these eccentric characters in their comical situations.

The seven experienced performers, three Off-Broadstreet veterans, four actors new to this venue, are high-energy experts in the quick response, the expressive double
take, the comic timing, and the nuanced phrasing necessary to bring across the full comic effect. They know how to play their actions and reactions larger than life without
compromising the integrity of their characterizations or venturing over the top in seeking audience response.

Run for Your Wife lies squarely in the tradition of Aristophanes and Shakespeare’s early comedies (e.g. The Comedy of Errors) all the way up to Mr. Cooney’s British
contemporaries: Joe Orton, Tom Stoppard, Michael Frayn and Monty Python. Run for Your Wife can hardly be blamed for suffering in comparison to the classic giants of
comic drama or the dark poignance of Orton, the sophisticated verbal virtuosity of Stoppard, the comic and technical brilliance of Frayn (Run for Your Wife does pale in
comparison to the cleverness and skill of Mr. Frayn’s Noises Off.), and the brilliant absurdity of the Monty Python group.

The Saturday night audience on the second weekend of the run at Off-Broadstreet was more than willing to suspend any disbelief necessary to participate in the fun. The
sold-out crowd warmed quickly to the concept, followed closely all the twists and turns of the intricate plot, and laughed loudly throughout the evening, as John struggled
inventively to hide his elaborate life and its fictional embellishments from embarrassing exposure.

Mr. Lobis’ winning manner, his poise, and his comic skill all help to ensure that laughter prevails over any concerns of plausibility or morality. He and Gavin Lawrence,
who plays Stanley, are especially funny together as they attempt to extricate themselves and the entangled plot from the morass of deceptions and dilemmas into which
they have fallen. The audience derives significant pleasure simply from wondering what fantastical excuses, explanations and contrivances these desperate deceivers will
come up with next in struggling to get themselves off the hook.

In going even a step further in his intrepid defiance of credibility, Mr. Cooney cleverly establishes both households onstage in one well appointed living room, so that the
two Mrs. Smiths carry out their frenetic activities in the same space at the same time. Mr. Thick’s sturdy, attractive, thoroughly functional set and his elegantly smooth
blocking of the characters’ movements enhance and clarify the hilarious results.

Mr. Thick and Mr. Cooney are not going to challenge McCarter Theatre and its artistic director Emily Mann with her dedication to important, literary, often powerfully socially conscious theater, but, highbrow critiques notwithstanding, this production of Run for Your Wife does what it does with polish, expertise, and huge audience appeal.

Aside from the uneven British accents, which are easily overlooked amidst the humor and madcap chaos, the one comic element that misses the mark in 2007 — undoubtedly it seemed less offensive twenty-five years ago when Run for Your Wife first appeared — are the extended “gay” jokes, based on the homophobia of the two
protagonists. Mr. Iaocovelli, however, is superb as the flamboyantly gay neighbor from upstairs — tastefully outlandish and amusing, reminiscent of Nathan Lane at his
best in the movie “The Bird Cage.”

Whether you’re lowbrow, highbrow, or in between,; Bob Thick’s production of Run for Your Wife provides excellent entertainment, delectable froth included, for a pleasurable summer evening in Hopewell.

Off-Broadstreet Theatre’s production of Ray Cooney’s Run for Your Wife plays on weekends through July 21, with performances Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and
Sundays at 2:30 p.m., at 5 South Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell. Doors open for dessert one hour before show time. Call (609) 466-2766 for reservations and further information.

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