Theater review: ‘Unnecessary Farce,’ by Millbrook Playhouse

MILL HALL – If anyone has not recently experienced frequent fits of laughter, it is absolutely necessary to see “Unnecessary Farce.”

Millbrook Playhouse, 258 Country Club Lane, unleashes Paul Slade Smith’s farce in the downstairs Cabaret with 7:30 p.m. performances tonight, tomorrow and Saturday.

A likely reason why “Unnecessary Farce” has been one of the most produced comedies in the last decade is that it contains not just a few farcical ingredients – lowbrow dialogue, slamming doors, mistaken identities, boisterous ramblings, rapid fire pacing and lots of both verbal and physical humor – but all of them.

Set in adjacent rooms in an economy motel, the storyline has two rookie cops as part of a sting operation assigned to videotape a corrupt mayor in the next room while he is being seduced by an female accountant into confessing his embezzlement of sixteen million dollars.

The bungling duo’s plans go awry when one of the inept cops, Officer Eric, falls for the accountant Karen, and then is completely botched with the sudden appearance of an insecure security man, a bagpipe toting hit man and the mayor’s wife.

Top marks for Adam Knight, who directs the well rehearsed seven person cast in the very precise physical shenanigans, mainly being pushed onto a bed, or into one of the bathrooms or closets.

Having seen the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s version about 15 months ago, I wondered if Millbrook’s set designer could squeeze all the furniture, beds and most importantly, the eight doors onto the Cabaret’s cozy stage. Kelli Harrod manages to accomplish this feat by creating only a partial wall between the two motel rooms.

The cast is uniformly funny, with the best acting coming from Brett Epstein and David Polgar. Epstein (hilarious in last summer’s “Leading Ladies”) plays the fidgety Agent Frank, and Polgar plays Todd, also known as the “Highland Hitman.”

Polgar gets the evening’s biggest laughs when strolling forth in his full regalia: kilts, bagpipe and plaid hat. (Understandably missing is Todd’s high furry hat if worn, it likely would scrap the Cabaret’s low ceiling.)

Danielle A. White plays the donut-loving Billie, who totes a water pistol since she is afraid to shoot her police weapon. Although not doing anything to free herself after being tied and gagged, the sometimes squeaking sounding White’s funniest moments are when she “translates” the agitated assassin’s booming thick Scottish brogue.

Her partner in law enforcement is Jeff Roman as Officer Eric. Often tongue-tied, Roman is effective when he makes his moves on the accountant. Samm Carroll (from “The Marvelous Wonderettes”) plays Karen, and although she doesn’t project a bawdy bombshell, Carroll is very comfortable in disrobing several times.

A true ensemble piece, “Unnecessary Farce” gives more lines to Major Meekly’s wife than to him. Matt Harris (Pastor Olgothorpe in “Smoke On the Mountain”) is wideeyed as what he thinks he is witnessing. Unlike BTE’s version when Mary Meekly appears late in Act I, director Knight relegates the not so meek Mary Meekly to the beginning of Act II. Lauren Riddle plays the mayor’s wife with a secret of her own.

One of the few times when the Cabaret appears a bit too small is near the end when a quartet of characters with weapons drawn, circle each other. Because of the cramped space, the director’s blocking requires the Mayor’s wife to navigate over rather than around the bed.

Running approximately two hours with an intermission, the show has been rated PG by Millbrook, although there is lots of “adult” situations and language.

“Unnecessary Farce” will repeatedly tickle the audience’s funny bone. And also on opening night, a couple of actors “broke up,” laughing for just a few seconds at all the silliness they were spewing. But that in itself was funny.

Call the box office at 570-748-8083 or visit www.millbrookplayhpouse.org.