Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Crackerjack Production is the Real Tour de Farce

Also see Bob's review of Cats

Prentiss Benjamin and
Ames Adamson

Lovers of farce (count me among you) are in for a real treat at the New Jersey Repertory Theatre which is presenting an amazingly fluid and fabulously performed production of the very complex and more than promising appropriately titled Tour de Farce.

As the curtain rises, Herb Gladney and his wife Rebecca are three weeks into a book tour promoting Herb's successful book "Marriage is Forever" in which he dispenses advice on how to successfully maintain a marriage. The catch is that Herb and Rebecca's marriage is floundering, and Rebecca is one upset away from spilling the beans and destroying all future sales for Herb's book.

Herb and Rebecca are checking into a hotel room (they've lost track of what city they are in) where we will spend the next two hours with them in real time. During this time, they will be harassed by the play's eight other characters, the snoopy Pam Blair (1) who is the host of a television interview show on which they are scheduled to appear; Gunnar Gustafson (2) her Swedish cameraman whom she instructs to photograph one or the other of them in a compromising position; conservative U. S. Senator Grant Ryan (3) who has commandeered their very room (which adjoins his) for his floozy girlfriend, Gwenda Hill (4); the Senator's wife Delilah Ryan (5) who is (well actually not quite) waiting in the wings to stir things up; Sister Barbara (6), a singing nun; and Bill (7), the meddlesome bellhop, and Nina (8), the maid, who is an illegal alien with sticky fingers. Importantly, given that this is a farce, there are four entrances (or exits, if you prefer): one each to the hall, the bathroom, a closet and the adjoining room. Additionally, the set harbors secrets that will not be described here.

Ames Adamson and Prentiss Benjamin star as Herb and Rebecca Gladney. And, as you are about to discover (in case that you didn't know already), Adamson and Benjamin also play all of their eight tormentors (four each) - not just once or twice each, but each of these folk show up repeatedly throughout the entire play. Oh, what you probably didn't notice is that only three of the eight are men (or, if you prefer, you probably didn't notice five of the eight are women), so expect some shades of Dame Edna.

Ames Adamson gets most of the juicier farce material and he runs with it. His characterizations are each very specific, often inspired and supply the lion's share of the evening's laughs. His whiny bellhop ("I guess it's better not to meet your idols face to face") and dour Swede ("Once I was assistant cameraman for Ingmar Bergman; now I'm hiding in closets" —my notes say "apartments", but "closets" sounds right) are especially funny. If commercial producers get to see Adamson's work here, we may end up sharing this most reliable and valuable "New Jersey actor" with the Big Apple.

Prentiss Benjamin does excellent work throughout. The tormentors whom she portrays fall into a narrower range (three are conniving manipulators), and she has less opportunity for broad farcical strokes. Benjamin is a sympathetic Rebecca and mines as much humor as possible from her other roles, displaying distinctive body language, and accents and speech patterns for each.

Authors Philip LaZebnik and Kingsley Day have put together elements which seem to have been purloined from a grab bag of farce material. They are recycling material that Ken Ludwig recycled in Lend Me a Tenor, and even Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy comes to mind (although here, when it's dark, it's dark). No problem here. LaZebnik and Day have come up with an unusual, if not unique, and truly delightful notion in employing only two actors to perform an old fashioned, eight character farce. However, so far, they have done so at the price of muddling their story line and throwing in too many complications that do not sustain our laughter and involvement to the extent desirable. I'm still wondering why Herb Gladney took two showers even though his luggage had been misplaced and he had no clothes to change into. So, this farce still needs work.

A possible solution would be to have four actors with two (straight men) playing the Gladneys, and two playing all the comedic tormentors. LeZebnik and Day might then have more freedom to better structure their farce, and they could up the ante with additional characters (and changes), so as not to lose the considerable and awe-inspiring fun that the current logistics provide. Of course, it is possible that LeZebnik and Day will be able to find the best answers within their two actor format. The authors should also upgrade a few of the jokes, such as the double entendres employed when Rebecca describes Herb as "soft", "quick" and "small." In any event, they have done so much fine and clever work so far that it is devoutly hoped that they can go the distance. None of this should deter anyone from seeing Tour de Farce, and the terrific production which it is receiving in Long Branch.

Not enough can be said about the marvelous pace and clarity provided by James Glossman's direction. Not only is he a sensational traffic cop here (and that is no small feat), but he also has elicited richly imaginative, dimensional performances from two actors who by the nature of their roles have to be beleaguered at every performance.

It is impossible to see Tour de Farce without thinking of the second act of Noises Off in which we see the farce within that farce from backstage. Well, the complexities of staging here are so breathtaking that we can't help but wonder and try to imagine what is going on behind the scenes. Keeping every change of character and all the lines in order is an almost unimaginable feat, even with the help of Stage Manager Rose Riccardi and her crew. Assistant stage managers Stephanie Dorian, Jane O'Leary and Corey Tazmania deserve on-stage bows and they appropriately and generously receive them. Someday, I'd like to see a production of Tour de Farce with transparent walls which allow us to see the insanity which must be going on off-stage. Yes, it is possible that it could diminish the magic. However, since it is real magic, I believe that it would double our pleasure and awe.

The excellent scenic design of Carrie Mossman provides amazingly playable space on the NJ Rep's small stage. The costumes (Patricia E. Doherty), and the uncredited wigs and makeup are excellent, and provide for quick changes which have to be seen to be believed. Just wait until you see the entire cast of ten take their hilarious curtain calls.

So don't just sit there, get your tickets to see Ames Adamson and Prentiss Benjamin knock themselves silly for you. You may never get the chance to see anything quite like it again.

Tour de Farce continues performances (Thurs. —Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m. / Some Sat. 4 p.m.) through February 26, 2006 at the New Jersey Repertory Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey 07740; Box Office: 732-229-3166; online

Tour de Farce by Philip LaZebnik and Kingsley Day; directed by James Glossman

Cast: Ames Adamson / Prentiss Benjamin

Photo: SuzAnne Barabas

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- Bob Rendell

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