May the Farce Be With You

Live Theatre Workshop's Two Into One is as enjoyable as any production you'll see this year

Perhaps it's to send us into the raging heat of summer with smiles on our faces: Several local theaters have been serving up some rip-roaring romps that are manipulating our collective funny bone with chiropractic-like skill.

Live Theatre Workshop has gotten into the act with a funny piece from Ray Cooney, Two Into One. Cooney, a farceur with a list of shows as long as roll of paper towels, has been writing successful shows since the 1960s. Probably his most well-known piece is Run for Your Wife, written in 1983, which ran for nine years in London and which just last year was made into a film for which he wrote the screenplay. Not Now Darling is also one of his better-known plays, and to show that his way with comedy has not been merely funny business, he was named an officer of the Order of the British Empire, or OBE, in 2005.

In form, Two Into One is your standard issue farce, with a complex situation that gets more and more impossible as the plot thickens with mistaken identities, marital infidelities, madcap mix-ups and, disguises and conversations in which the characters think they are talking about the same thing but are soooo not. The best part is that the audience is in the know about these complications and misunderstandings while the characters are not. Also typical of farce are chases, and characters disappearing through doors at just the right moment—without a moment to spare. To make this all work requires a creative logistical sense, to-the-second maneuvers by the actors and a set design able to accommodate these shenanigans.

LTW does a very good job executing the challenges of Cooney's play, and the result is a good ol' fashioned laugh fest.

Two Into One is set in the 1980s—Margaret Thatcher's name is evoked several times—in a London hotel where government worker Richard Willey (Stephen Frankenfield) is staying with his wife (Debbie Runge). His associate, George Pidgen (Keith Wick), is unaware that Willey has plans far afield of the usual meetings. Rather, Willey has arranged to meet a lovely lady with whom he has planned an afternoon of—well, nongovernmental business. He enlists George to help coordinate this rendezvous; trouble is, George is totally out of his element and botches his attempt to direct the mendacious plans, confusing the code name that Willey's woman friend would use when she checked in. So he reserves the room in the name of "Christmas" instead of "Easter," which, of course, holds the potential for all manner of jokes from the get-go. And George is so uncomfortable with his lies that, in a fluster, he claims himself to be "Dr. Noelle Christmas." So now we have a setup for plenty of mistaken-for-a doctor jokes. Add the twist that the room assigned to the, er, Christmases is right next door to the Willeys' hotel room, and there's a surfeit of potential comic material to mine.

Director Missie Scheffman has assembled some LTW regulars to populate the story and has found a couple of new faces as well. It's critically important that the director carefully choreograph the action as well as orchestrate the mounting momentum to a fever pitch. Scheffman does a good job, with keen judgment about when to pull the strings. She has had solid support from her scenic designers Richard and Amanda Gremel, who for the tiny stage have managed to build six sturdy doors that withstand quite a workout. (However, the color of paint on the walls might be called "Hard to Live With Peach." Ugly, ugly.)

Frankenfield's Willey and Wick's George/Dr. Christmas are the heart of the story and they carry the bulk of the ever-building craziness. Frankenfield is a capable actor, though prone to being a bit overly intense. He is grounded in his character, so it's not like he's going outside the lines of what we should expect from Willey. It's just that his intense style contrasts so obviously with the approaches of the other actors. A bit of restraint would serve the overall tenor of the story and complement the energy and style of his fellow actors.

Wick as George/Dr. Christmas is a study in farcical perfection. His character's confusion, his desperation to hide the seams of his unraveling identity and to bridge the gaps in the lies he creates, his physically comedic moments, his need to improvise in a sticky situation—he nails it all. See this show for his excellent work, even if you think you are not a fan of farce.

The team of Wick and Frankenfield make the story work and they make it work well.

The capable supporting cast has some newcomers who definitely show promise, including film student Do Pham. He has a tendency to chew the scenery, but with some training and experience he will be an asset in the Tucson acting community.

There is an aspect of the show that just didn't work well, and I'm not quite sure where to put the blame, so I'll spread it between actor and director. Martie Van Der Voort has a small but plum role as Lily Chatterton (and, yes, it intentionally sounds like Lady Chatterly). She's an arch-conservative, anti-pornography activist who happens to be staying on the same floor where the shenanigans are taking place. But the character feels flat and doesn't add much to the complications afoot, which was obviously Cooney's intent. Puzzling.

But no matter. There are a few things that could lift the show to an even higher level, but it is still a well-crafted production, enough so to make the audience members laugh until they cry.

I'd get a ticket, if I were you.

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