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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Not Now, Darling
Hedgerow Theatre

As the curtain opens on Hedgerow Theatre's production of Not Now, Darling, a familiar tune is heard: Dennis Wilson's string quartet theme to the classic BBC comedy series "Fawlty Towers." That gives a hint of the level of comedy this play aspires to: knockabout farce with sophisticated, richly detailed characters. But Not Now, Darling leaves out the sophistication, settling for farce—and a rather lowbrow style of farce at that. (The slightly sleazy tone is set in the first five minutes, when a leering businessman refers to his mistress as "an exotic beauty of 28 summers and 38 bust.") Still, when Hedgerow's production dispenses with bawdiness and sticks to just being silly, it often ends up being riotously funny.

This is Hedgerow's eleventh annual production of a farce by Ray Cooney, one of Britain's most popular comic playwrights. Not Now, Darling is one of Cooney's early works, dating to 1967 and co-written with John Chapman. (A Broadway production in 1970 was produced by, believe it or not, George Steinbrenner.) This one concerns Gilbert Bodley, a London furrier who decides to give an expensive fur to his mistress without her husband finding out. Before long, the mistress is onstage wearing nothing but a fur coat—and so is her husband's mistress. And both young ladies have to hide in cupboards and hope that their husbands (and Mrs. Bodley) don't find them. Meanwhile, Bodley's milquetoast business partner of fourteen years ("Fourteen brain-crushing, agonizing years," says Bodley) has to pose as a lothario so the various spouses don't get suspicious—a task at which he fails miserably, causing him more and more distress.

Not Now, Darling is a sex farce that doesn't get too dirty—Bodley never gets to bed his mistress, and much of the humor derives from the sex-starved characters trying to appear respectable even when they're parading around in bra and panties (or "pants," as they're called here). There's no complexity to the characters; the jokes and puns come too quickly for Cooney and Chapman to give their characters any depth. Yet the simplicity of the characters ends up making them rather sweet and lovable, even when the plot strains credulity. (There's one moment where a character who's been arrested gets released by the police for no logical reason other than to cause a plot complication.)

Director Jared Reed keeps things light and breezy as the difficulties mount and the doors keep slamming. The show moves too quickly to get tiresome. The cast is, as is often the case at Hedgerow, uneven—yet there are several standouts, including John D. Smitherman as the frantic Bodley. (On the night I attended, Smitherman was able to improvise cleverly when a door handle broke halfway through act one, nearly derailing the show. The handle got fixed during intermission.) Zoran Kovcic is amusingly harried as the meek partner who gets in way over his head, while Rebecca Cureton is saucy as Bodley's mistress and Dave Polgar plays her distracted husband with a nicely jaded air.

As good as these performances are, though, the inconsistent accents are distracting. When Smitherman mentions France, he pronounces it with a flat American "a" rather than a soft English one. Most of the actors make similar mistakes; only Jonny Long, playing a jealous Cockney, comes close to sounding accurate.

Be warned: the casual, wink-and-a-nod sexism of Not Now, Darling is appallingly out of date. And a lot of the plot twists are predictable. Yet the fun in Hedgerow's production comes from seeing how those plot twists are executed, and how the plot strands fall into place. And when Not Now, Darling works best—as in a hilarious running gag that involves Kovcic tossing clothing out of a window—you can put any reservations you have aside and just laugh.

Not Now, Darling runs through August 12, 2012, at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, Pa. Ticket prices range from $25 to $32, with discounts for seniors, children and groups, and may be purchased by calling the box office at 610-565-4211, online at www.hedgerowtheatre.org or in person at the box office.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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