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‘Unnecessary Farce’ a scathingly funny night of theatre

September 15, 2010

Those looking for a scathingly funny night of theatre should look no further than Starkville Community Theatre’s season opening production of Paul Slade Smith’s “Unnecessary Farce.”
This reviewer found himself laughing so hard he could barely breathe by the time the Friday night performance of the show concluded.
The basic premise of “Unnecessary Farce” is that two undercover police officers, Eric and Billie, played by Kris Lee and Heather Box, respectively — have staged a sting operation in a motel in order to catch their town’s mayor, played by Gabe Smith, confessing to embezzling $16 million in government funds to town’s newly hired accountant, Karen, played by Abigail Voller.
The simple premise of the sting is to videotape the mayor’s embezzlement confession via a hidden camera.
While the “sting” setup may seem pretty simple, things soon go hilariously awry when the mayor’s security officer, Agent Frank, played by Paul Ruff, enters into the equation, exposing a deeper scheme I won’t reveal here.
Let’s just say that complications aplenty ensue, with a Scottish assassin, played by Christopher Walrath, and the mayor’s wife, played by M.J. Etua, getting in on the hilarity.
In addition to the plot twists, the show involves one hilarious sight gag after another, several of which place the characters in somewhat “compromising” situations, some of which are viewed on the “hidden camera” video feed set up for the sting.
Director Thomas LaFoe’s staging of the production in two adjoining motel rooms is delightfully effective given the limited space constraints of the stage at the Playhouse on Main.
In fact, the limited space available for the adjoining hotel rooms set lends the production extra doses of comedy at times.
Characters are going in and out of the motel room doors, bathroom doors, closet doors and the adjoining room doors so frequently that one might get dizzy trying to keep up with the action.
But LaFoe is a pro at having staged other successful farces on the SCT stage, including “It Runs in the Family” and “Not Now, Darling” in recent seasons, and his work is effective here.
Each of the seven member cast gets moments to shine.
Lee and Box are an absolute scream as the bumbling police officers, both exhibiting a terrific comic timing throughout the show.
Lee is a brilliant physical actor whose facial expressions alone can send one into a fit of the giggles. Box gets the best line of the production as she tries to decipher the Scottish hitman’s dialect for Ruff’s mayoral security officer. She also gets to play a good bit of physical humor, which she does deftly.
Voller herself mines quite a few laughs as her character gets deeper into the sting operation, especially when she’s trying to signal for help from Lee and Box’s characters in a rather “hot and bothered” manner.
Smith’s character portrays the straight man throughout the show, inconveniently walking in and out of hilariously compromising situations usually involving Voller’s character. Ruff, as Agent Frank, is also hysterical as he frequently misinterprets signals being sent him by multiple characters.
Walrath’s Scottish hitman provides much comedic fodder as he makes his entrance late in the first act and dominates much of the second act action.
From his raving about his non-functioning bagpipes to being misunderstood by Ruff’s character — not to mention his “assassination outfit” — Walrath delivers a winning performance.
Etua’s character provides the show’s biggest plot twist — one I won’t give away here — and she again demonstrates her comic timing with great effectiveness.
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a production that made me laugh until my sides hurt, that “Unnecessary Farce” did just that.
It’s another reminder of that the talent on our SCT stage rivals that of any Broadway or professional theater production.
The show continues its run at the Playhouse on Main at 7:30 p.m. daily through Saturday.
Call the SCT Box office at 323-6855 to reserve seats.

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