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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Geoff Hoyle and Sharon Lockwood in the World Premiere Farce For Better or Worse

For Better or Worse
Geoff Hoyle, Sharon Lockwood and Lynnda Ferguson
Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Arizona Theatre Company are uniting to present the world premiere production of For Better or Worse, adapted from Georges Feydeau’s two minor short plays from the later period of the French playwright’s life. These plays mirrored Feydeau's own tragic life, with his marriage falling apart and, most likely, the presence of a social disease. The playwright would soon be consigned to an asylum and early death. Leonie Early (Leonie est en avance, au le mai joli 1911) and Purging the Baby (On purge bebe 1910) paint a picture of marriage as a battleground where two persons' egos obstinately fight over trivialities.

For Better or Worse's acerbic first act has been retitled Julie’s Early. Geoff Hoyle plays a respectable but hapless husband dealing with a domestic hurricane. His wife Julie, played by Sharon Lockwood, is expecting their first child and she is one holy terror- demanding, madly crying or screaming constantly. To make matters worse, the mother-in-law, played by Lynnda Ferguson, comes into the act and it is immediately clear she has no love for the idiot husband. For some unexplained reason that only a pregnant housewife would know, the husband, who manufactures chamber pots, is made to wear one on his head. This is a maddening 20-minute first act, surrounded by “fillers” that give Mr. Hoyle more of the center of attention.

Prior to this very silly farce, Geoff Hoyle comes out on stage to talk briefly about the French playwright as a Professor at Cal State in Yreka (that’s always good for a laugh), with a bookish voice. Part of the comic’s filler includes an audience participation gig (if Dame Edna can do it, why not Geoff Hoyle?). The ply here is to demonstrate the details of door slamming that was so prevalent in Feydeau’s early masterpieces. Hoyle picks a female and a male and an extra person in the front row to slam a small, makeshift door prop in front of the stage. (Fortunately, on the night we saw the show, he had three wonderful audience participators who really hammed it up, making it the highlight of the night.) After that, to fill out the time for the first act to end, he reads a letter from an outraged subscriber who criticizes everything that is to come in the 20-minute scream fest. This is a direct pun on the current state of censorship in this country. He says “Oh well, this is not the three networks but the live stage.”

The second act, featuring a larger cast, is French “bathroom” humor that involves the same couple seven years later and the young boy now seven, who is a first class brat. The bathroom humor contains some very funny bits about chamber pots. We see a full chamber pot of “slop” being moved around by the wife dressed in an outlandish nightgrown and full length stockings that fall to her ankles, oh so many times. There is the constipated son from hell played by fifth grader Gideon Lazarus who won’t take a French laxative medication such as “Hunyadi Janos” a purgative. This becomes very funny schtick, especially when a buffoon of a man played superbly by Jarion Monroe comes to buy these “unbreakable” chamber pots for the army. The last scene has one crazy couple coming into the farce with the buffoon’s wife played effectively by Lynnda Ferguson and her “secret” lover Horatio Garcia Zarzuela de Zaragoza y Pau played hilariously by Rudy Guerrero. He wears an outlandish outfit of black with touches of flaming red, which makes him look like a very fey Spanish grandee. Horatio need not speak a word to get the audience howling but when he talks like Charo, it does bring down the house.

Geoff Hoyle is one funny fellow; he is the comic treasure who played the part of Zazu in the original Broadway cast of The Lion King and has been entertaining audiences with his one man shows in both this country and Europe. This is an actor who could play any role in the current Spamalot in New York. He goes through all kinds of physical comedy like Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati in these performances. One would think that Feydeau and Hoyle would go together, but Hoyle translated and adapted the wrong Feydeau farces. Both are completely slap stick to the point of embarrassment. Feydeau's farces need actors who know the nuances of split-timing French farce and this cast does not. There are several exceptions, but they are unfortunately brief. Jarion Monroe knows the shades of farcical acting and he is terrific as the buyer of chamber pots in the second act. Rudy Guerrero goes all out with his fractured Spanish and his bizarre dandy costume in his brief role in the second act. Amy Resnick, who has appeared in many plays both in San Francisco and Los Angeles, is completely lost as the maid in both productions. It’s a throwaway part but she makes the best of it.

For Better or Worse plays at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley through April 24th. Tickets can be obtained by calling 510-647-2949 or toll free 888-4-BRT-Tix or visiting www.berkeleyrep.org. Their world premiere of The People’s Temple opened on April 15 in the Roda Theatre.


Photo: Tim Fuller


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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