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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 10.23.08




Winter Gales (of Laughter)

British farce at the Very Little Theatre

by Anna Grace

You thought you had financial troubles? Meet Henry Perkins. This regular old chap mistakenly picks up a briefcase containing 750,000 British pounds in unmarked bills, sending him down a path of elaborate lies, bribery and attempted wife swapping. Will he make it to Barcelona before the nasty man who lost the money shows up to claim it? 

Dan Pegoda, William Campbell, Leslie Murray and Tom Wilson in Funny Money

You can find out at the opening of the Very Little Theatre’s 80th season. In Funny Money, the company presents an old fashioned, door-slamming, identity-flipping British farce, with which the director and cast mostly succeed.

Funny Money’s plot is secondary to broad physical comedy and complicated identity mix-ups. The writing ranges from witty quips to laborious explanations of made-up family scenarios. But just when I wished playwright Ray Cooney had an editor with a stronger backbone, I would find myself giggling uncontrollably at his clever twists of plot. Written in 1994, the play is surprisingly dated. Some of the humor centering around 20th-century views of sex, alcohol consumption and persistent Indian taxi drivers is inappropriate — and not in a guiltily funny way. 

Even the “enormous” sum of money, about 1.5 million American dollars, isn’t really enough for Henry and his friends to retire first class in Barcelona. But no one’s going to see this play for its political sensitivities or ideas on retirement. When you go — and if you are a fan of farce, you must go — you simply can’t question why the detective sitting in the dining room cares so passionately about getting the assembled company to have a cup of tea. You just need to accept that it’s going to lead to a good joke.

Chris Pinto can be a very talented director, and I wish there were greater evidence of his guidance in this play. He needs to regulate the pacing, essential in an over-the-top farce like this. The actors reach full throttle midway through the first act. They manage to keep up the relentless energy, but that makes it difficult to view any mishap as more important than the one before, so the tension does not build as it should. 

Still, Pinto brilliantly stages the physical comedy, and his casting is marvelous. This is the strongest cast I have seen assembled on the stage of VLT in a long time. Dan Pegoda and Leslie Murray are thoroughly believable as Henry and Jean Perkins, boring suburban couple turned thieves. Tom Wilson allows the creepiness of Detective Davenport to seep out just slowly enough to simultaneously win over and repulse the audience. Jennifer Sellers keeps the action rolling precisely as a proper British homemaker would, and Bill Campbell is priceless as her long-suffering husband. As a whole, the cast takes on demanding physical comedy, British accents and complete buy-in of ridiculous situations, making Funny Money a farce worthy of VLT’s tradition.

Right now, it feels good to laugh. You can get some real guffaws out of this production and enjoy a break from your own money woes. For a night of wordy, silly, nonstop British comedy, Funny Money is your ticket.  

Funny Money runs through Nov. 8 at the VLT. Tix at 344-7751.