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'Net' Success 

This sequel can't live up to the original, but LTW and Stephen Frankenfield make it work

When last we encountered amiable London cab driver John Smith, he was frantically trying to keep his two enthusiastic young wives from finding out about each other. John would spend the night with one wife, then scoot off to his "day shift," which meant spending time with the other wife, until it was time for the "night shift," and so on. When he actually had time to pick up fares was rather unclear.

Actually, most of the strenuous work of devising extravagant deceptions to keep the wives apart fell to John's best friend, the disheveled Stanley. If not for Stanley's valiant service, John would certainly have been found out in Ray Cooney's Run for Your Wife. Which means that Cooney would not have been able to write a sequel, Caught in the Net, now playing at Live Theatre Workshop.

LTW served up a high-energy production of Run for Your Wife two years ago, and now the company has reunited that show's director (Cliff Madison) and most of its principal cast for the story's continuation. The one significant cast member not around this time is Jeremy Thompson, who played John. Perhaps it's only coincidental that Thompson is keeping a low profile now that Sabian Trout has replaced him as the company's artistic director; at any rate, his absence is not crippling, for two reasons. First, Brian Wees does a fine job in the role and makes something rather different of it, more desperate and conniving. Second, John frankly isn't all that important, even though he's caused all the trouble; once again, it's Stanley who keeps the story spinning.

Caught in the Net is officially a sequel to Run for Your Wife, but sometimes, it seems more like a remake. Once again, John scurries from one apartment to the other, trying to keep his households apart. Once again, it's the reluctant Stanley who must come up with one brilliant lie after another to protect John. Once again, there's some confusion about sexual identity. (This time, nobody in the play is actually gay, but Cooney does manage to get laughs out of suspicions of ephebophilia; no, this production was not underwritten by Mark Foley.)

All that really distinguishes this play from its predecessor is that it's set 18 years later, and the action is catalyzed by John's teenaged children (one in each family). They've met on the Internet and find it extremely interesting that each has a father with the same name (first, last and middle), same occupation and same age. They want to meet, and 15-year-old Vicki (played with spirit by Allegra Breedlove) has invited 17-year-old Gavin (the steady and likable Otto Ross) over for tea. John, of course, can't have one offspring popping over to another's flat and learning the duplicity of their paterfamilias. There's only one thing to do: Insist that the ever-faithful Stanley save the day.

Stephen Frankenfield plays Stanley with all the exasperated verve he summoned for Run for Your Wife, and Caught in the Net really comes to life whenever he's on stage, which is most of the time. Unfortunately, Cooney pushes Stanley to the side during the dénouement, and without Stanley to inspire him, the playwright starts to run out of steam. The conclusion falls flat, and in fact, Cooney's solution to John's problem just doesn't ring true after some things we've seen earlier in the play.

A further problem is Cooney's treatment of the wives. The talented Holli Henderson has absolutely nothing interesting to do as Barbara, who now seems much less interested in hot sex than in whole foods. Kristi Loera, as Mary, does a fine job of building up rage through the course of the play, mostly behind locked doors, but that is her sole assignment. She doesn't even have a chance to run the emotional gamut from A to B. Veteran actor Douglas Mitchell makes his local debut as Stanley's dotty dad, a little senile and a lot deaf, but Cooney fails to make him an essential part of the chaos.

So the play is a far less delicious farce than Run for Your Wife, but the best parts--those involving Frankenfield's Stanley--are quite tasty indeed.

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