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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 2.11.10

 

Swinging Through London’s Doors

LCC’s Move Over Mrs. Markham farces it up

by Suzi Steffen

Last time I reviewed a farce, I led the review with a discussion of doors and how they should be used. That was Rumors at the Very Little Theatre, directed by Chris Pinto. Pinto must be into farces this season, for he’s at it again — and the doors work far better in this case — with the young actors at LCC in the British sex farce Move Over Mrs. Markham

In Rumors, the set-ups of the first act paid off during an extended, inspired second-act monologue that Paul Hume Rhoden built into a towering fantasy of outrageous proportions. Though the whipped-up, goofy climax of Move Over Mrs. Markham, a late ’60s/early ’70s play by Ray Cooney and John Chapman, arrives with the collaboration of nearly the entire cast, it still relies heavily on the acting skills of one person — Melissa DeHart as Joanna Markham. Luckily, DeHart appears to know exactly what she’s doing, and she directs the traffic around her with the skill of a far older actor.

That traffic consists of her children’s-book-publisher husband Philip (Aaron Archer); their decorator (Jesse Ferreira); their maid (Rhea Gates); their good friends the Lodges (Linda, played by Leela Gouveia; Philip’s business partner Henry, played by Andrew Ghai); Linda’s erstwhile lover Walter (Jimmie Berguin); Henry’s newest fling (Savana Wilson); and the best-selling, publisher-switching, sex-freaked Olive Harriet Smythe (Lilith Lincoln-Dinan).

Yes, that’s everybody; by the climax of the play, they’re all onstage, almost all of them in the living room. The plot concerns a misplaced letter that misleads Philip Markham into thinking his wife, who’s quite repressed and who certainly isn’t experiencing any sexual pleasure with him, is having an affair with the decorator. Another plotline revolves around the Lodges’ entirely separate plans for using the Markhams’ flat as a space for a one-night stand, a plan shared by two other characters who aren’t the Lodge lovers. Oh, and Smythe’s need for a publisher that doesn’t publish “racy” books.

The unbearable lightness of the unlikely script only stays tied to real human concerns during short scenes of agonized pain between Philip and Joanna Markham. DeHart, who’s onstage and just on a huge percentage of the two-hour running time, displays grace even in the silliest scenes with decorator Alistair (Ferreira), and Archer gives pathos as well as amusement to Philip’s ridiculous jealousy.

Pinto says in his director’s note, an appreciation for Eugene theater guru Ed Ragozzino, that Ragozzino taught him to “always maintain a good pace.” This production mostly does that, with few lags as the actors figure out their complex blocking. Entrances, exits, props, costume changes, half or all-naked characters, sound gags and a few sight gags (watch Ghai when his character meets Wilson’s) left opening night’s audience in stitches throughout the play.

Some of that laughter felt uncomfortable and off. Sure, the play was written decades ago, but the bizarre hilarity associated with homophobic jokes seems out of place now. (I know: Unless you’re a football-watching bro, according to Super Bowl ads.) Actually, most of the jokes themselves don’t seem as out of place — after all, the play’s built upon misunderstandings of heterosexual relations too — as do the reactions of the crowd when one character emphatically affirms his total heterosexuality over and over again.

I rather forgave the play that issue, not to mention its limited understanding of children’s literature, when the climactic scene commenced. I’m guessing the humor-limited, those who don’t like the usual comedies or cartoons, etc., shouldn’t come to this play; nor should those who always want a Message from a play. But this frothy piece in its gorgeous set, with its surprisingly sweet dénouement, deserves a crowd, especially for DeHart, Archer, Ghai and Lincoln-Dinan (in a small but deeply amusing turn). A fine, funny production with occasional lapses, not surprising from a young cast with a fast-moving play, Move Over Mrs. Markham could certainly lighten up any Valentine’s-time winter blues. 

Move Over Mrs. Markham runs through Feb. 20 at LCC. Tix at www.lanecc.edu/tickets or 541-463-5761.