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Bag Fulla Money

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

If your idea of a hilarious stage farce is Noises Off (and whose isn't?), you're not the target audience for Bag Fulla Money. If, however, you've never seen a farce, or - better yet - you've never been to the theatre before, you'll probably have a better time.

Whether SunnySpot Productions can find enough of these people to populate performances of its production of Scott Brooks's anemic and flat-out boring play is another matter entirely. As just about everyone has seen an episode of Three's Company (or something like it), it's difficult to imagine any audience not already inured to the most obligatory, pedestrian attempts to generate laughs from mistaken identities, eavesdropping, and slamming doors.

Those ideas, watered down, are Bag Fulla Money's stock in trade; it offers nothing original and takes no chances. Farce, like any comedy, needs energy to fuel sharply defined situations; Bag Fulla Money has none. For any play, specific characters are required to give depth to the story and its humor, ensuring that the actors will be able to land and sustain laughs; the mostly mirthless Bag Fulla Money has characters only insofar as the actors onstage don't refer to each other by their real names.

These characters are all casting-notice descriptions brought to life: The doddering owner of the luxury hotel in which the show is set; his pompous, spoiled son; the working-class pastry chef and his high-born fiancée; an English gangster and his part-Indian partner; and a lower-class couple, he's black and she's a Latina kleptomaniac. There's nothing distinguished about any of them - each is one-dimensional, on hand solely to contrast with the others, and immediately forgettable.

With everyone serving as a mouthpiece for turgid one-liners, even the potentially funny scenario - about, yes, a bag full of money ($1.2 million, to be exact) that everyone's climbing over everyone else to control - is meaningless. People switch allegiances at the drop of a hat (or, in one case, a hand), strike up or dissolve alliances, and peel away layers of unneeded complications that don't propel the story or encourage laughter as much as they fill up stage time. (Roughly half the second act is devoted to explaining the first act, if that gives you an idea.)

So the actors can't be blamed for their inability to make anything of this. They're all troupers, working impressively hard but always seeming to just go through the motions as if hope is already lost. (Given Sam Viverito's lethargic direction, one can sympathize with them.) Still, Christopher Wisner seems almost natural as the eternally bemused pastry chef, who's apparently manipulated as much as he manipulates others. And Diana DeLaCruz (the kleptomaniac, first seen clutching a purloined giraffe statue), summons up enough spunk to lend each act several seconds of desperately needed spice.

Otherwise, you'll have to get your theatrical fix from Michael Hotopp's smartly appointed kitchen set, which is loaded with whisks, cleavers, and other instruments of potential mayhem; hiding places; and the requisite handful of doors, including to an elevator and dumbwaiter. All this promises a far more exciting and uproarious evening than the one that actually materializes.

Near the end of the first act, though, the stage does explode in tightly controlled wackiness and barely subdued violence. With people streaming in and out, hiding in strange places, plotting and executing intricate plans of attack and defense, and a slapstick scene set in complete darkness, you get a brief glimpse of the edgy, unrestrained joy that Bag Fulla Money could have been. Instead, it's at best the theatrical equivalent of dye packs to a bank robber.

Bag Fulla Money
Through January 29
Running Time: 90 minutes, with one intermission
Clurman Theater, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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