Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Two Into One and The Belle of Amherst

Rebecca Cureton and Zoran Kovcic
2011 marks the tenth straight summer that Rose Valley's Hedgerow Theatre has presented a farce by Ray Cooney, the British playwright whose works have been immensely popular in his homeland since the sixties. If you're at all curious about what has made Cooney so successful, this year's offering, Two Into One, is an excellent—and very funny—illustration of what all the fuss is about.

Last summer's Cooney offering, Chase Me, Comrade!, was my first exposure to the author, and it was a disappointment; it began so frantically that it had nowhere to go, and it wore out its welcome quickly. But Two Into One is much better, requiring a smaller leap of disbelief before the high jinks begin. It starts as a comedy of manners concerning Richard Willey (Shaun Yates), a Member of Parliament who is staying in a posh hotel with his bored, long-suffering wife (Rebecca Cureton). At first, Willey's biggest problem is how to deal with a Russian (Jeff Berry) who is apparently a graduate of the Basil Fawlty School for Bumbling Foreign Waiters. But then we learn that Willey is planning a tryst with a charming young thing from the Prime Minister's office (Kristina Psitos). "Think of your position!" protests George (Zoran Kovcic), Willey's respectable secretary. "I already am," says his leering boss.

Willey has come up with a way to hide his affair—a scheme which involves George renting a room under an assumed name. "Nothing can go wrong," says Willey. "That's what Chamberlain said in Munich," counters George. Soon George has his hands full juggling an anxious Mr. Willey, an amorous Mrs. Willey, and a half dozen others who must be kept in the dark to prevent the house-of-cards plot from collapsing.

Two Into One premiered in London in 1984, and it definitely seems dated—and not just because of the references to Margaret Thatcher and Evita. This is a world where adultery is a jolly good lark (as long as it's unconsummated), and where the biggest disgrace imaginable is for someone to (mistakenly) think you're gay. But fortunately, it's also a world where nothing is what it seems and nothing is to be taken seriously. It's a lot of fun watching the ingeniously constructed plot spin out of control, but Cooney paints himself into a corner by forgetting to add an ending. Instead of resolving the plot with a minimum of damage, he simply has George step forward and announce the show is over. It's a good gag, but an unsatisfying one.

Director Jared Reed keeps the quips flying and the doors slamming (Kovcic designed the versatile set). But the casting is uneven. There are good turns by Yates (as the politician frantically determined not to be brought low), Bob Liga (as a suspicious hotel manager), and Susan Wefel (as an opposition politician looking to embarrass Willey). But Kovcic, despite his skill as a farceur, is miscast as George; he's too imposing to be convincing as a sycophant to a younger man. And the leggy Cureton seems too young to be complaining about a lengthy, stagnant marriage, although she performs with gusto.

Despite the creaks, though, Two Into One ends up being an exuberant, merry time.

Two Into One runs through August 7, 2011, at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, Pa. Ticket prices range from $10 to $25, with discounts for seniors and children, and may be purchased by calling the box office at 610-565-4211, online at or in person at the box office.

While the cast of Two Into One is keeping audiences in stitches in Hedgerow's auditorium, the theater's Producing Artistic Director, Penelope Reed, is doing something quite different in the theater's gallery, just a few yards away. There, on Saturday afternoons through the end of June, Reed is performing William Luce's The Belle of Amherst. There's space for about twenty spectators, seated against one wall, to watch Reed portray Emily Dickinson, the eccentric 19th century poet whose talent wasn't recognized until it was too late.

Luce's play portrays Dickinson as a woman of thwarted ambitions and passions who channels her loneliness into her poems. It's a haunting study which quotes liberally from Dickinson's work to paint a sad yet uplifting portrait of an artist in tune with nature and with her inner world. Reed's performance is appropriately restrained to match the small space. Reed is fluttery at times, capturing Dickinson's timid reserve with blinking eyes and a tremulous voice—yet she becomes vibrant when she thinks of a word or phrase that strikes her fancy. And the setting—a largely undecorated room in Hedgerow's home, an 1840s grist mill—perfectly evokes the simplicity of rural Massachusetts in the 1880s. When Reed proclaims that "Nature is the highest art," while leaning out a real window and practically touching the trees outside, it's a perfect illustration of Dickinson's insight.

All in all, Hedgerow's low-key The Belle of Amherst is a lovely way to spend a June afternoon.

The Belle of Amherst runs on Saturday afternoons at 4 p.m. through June 25, 2011 at Hedgerow Theatre. See above for ticket information.

Photo: Rick Prieur

-- Tim Dunleavy

Privacy Policy