Monday, August 04, 2008

Farce

While lying in bed last night, trying in vain to fall asleep (iced mocha at 10pm = bad idea), I started thinking about “There Goes the Bride.” All the T-line women and I took in the latest Ray Cooney farce staged by Swift Creek Mill on Friday and we all had a fine time. Richard Koch (as Timothy) is a brilliant comic actor and, paired with the constantly moving and Betty Boop-ishly entertaining Audra Honaker (as Polly), howls of laughter arose from an appreciative crowd. I always love watching Vicki McLeod on stage – she is one of the most assured, unflappable actresses around and she was perfect in her role as the relative calm in the middle of the storm. It was also great to watch Brandon Becker (as Bill Shorter) work his somewhat subsidiary role with great skill, starting the show as a responsibility-avoiding gadabout and ending as almost a hero of sorts.

But as 2am loomed, I was wondering why it is that I don’t generally like farce. One aspect of my reaction I delineated right away: a problem for me sometimes is that some people LOVE farce so much and their squeals and shouts of laughter contrast mightily with my appreciative chuckles so much that I end up feeling like there must be something I’m missing. But I think the bigger problem is that the nature of farce is to push circumstances beyond any realistic boundaries and when things get “out there,” I start losing interest. For instance, everyone trying to cope with Timothy’s hallucinations is one thing but when the excuses they make about it compound to an absurd level (the confusion about whether Polly is a bird or a kitten or a person, trying to pass Bill off as the father of the bride, etc.), it all starts to seem a bit silly.

I get it that this is the point of farce – it’s all silly good fun. But I think it ends up being a little thankless for actors. Christine Schneider is adorable in the play and does a good job in the play’s first scene. But in much of the rest of the play she is largely reduced to leaving the room in tears. John Hagadorn is in fine form and is extremely funny as the befuddled grandfather of the bride. But I found his slapsticky later scenes just OK. Also, it seems most farces have an upright or logical character who gets thrown into the midst of the mayhem; seeing them reduced from sensible to senseless becomes part of the fun. In “Bride” this is Joy Williams as Mrs. Babcock and while Joy always makes the most of her characters, here she is mostly reactive and as written I don’t think some of her character’s reactions make sense. Of course, this also is the point – if someone came in and just said, ‘come on people, snap out of it,’ well, what would the fun in that be?

Perhaps I live in my head too much and need to just loosen up a bit. Maybe I need to let my wife drive me to farces so I can have two or three drinks beforehand to get in the proper mood. Don’t get me wrong – I still had a great time. A badly done farce can be downright tortuous but luckily, Tom Width is among the best directors I know at making farce work. Seeing Richard and Audra work their parts was alone worth the price of admission. But I think I only had half the fun of many of the people around me, a curiosity that filled my caffeine-boosted brain well into the wee hours this morning.

1 comment:

joepabst said...

I’ve done a number of farces at the Mill. I’ve never found them thankless. I find them exhilirating! (And I usually end up losing at least 10 pounds over the course of the run!)

I completely understand that farce is not everyone’s cup of tea. (And Dave, that’s OK!) I think most people who don’t care for the genre tend to overthink it. That’s ironic to me, because that’s exactly what the characters in a farce don’t do.

A farce is generally based on the premise that the characters can’t take the time to think things through properly. They will make bad, split-second decisions, and then continue to pile more bad decisions on top until the whole thing is resolved – in a totally unrealistic and hyper-convenient way. The audience has the time to discern the best course of action. But the characters will never do what we know they should do. A well-paced farce will keep the action moving too fast for characters to think. (And you’re right, Dave – Tom Width has amazing skill and timing with a farce!)

For me, that’s the fun of watching (and performing in) a farce. It’s not about what the characters do or don’t do or should do. I like to watch them get themselves into an extreme mess of ridiculous lie upon lie upon lie, and then try to work themselves out.

Is it absurd? Yes! Is it improbable? Absolutely! Is it silly? To the extreme! But you just can’t think about it too much.

Some people are fascinated by a car wreck. They can’t take their eyes off the wreckage, the twisted metal, etc. But you rarely hear someone say, “Well, if the driver had only hit the brakes and turned to the right, this never would have happened.” That’s not the point. The point is, it did happen and the aftermath is horrifying and fascinating all at the same time.

Hopefully, the aftermath in a farce is more hilarious than horrifying. Hopefully… :-)