Farce is not a one-size-fits-all theatrical style. There are gloriously crafted ones (the works of Molière, Noises Off, maybe One Man, Two Guvnors), and then there are silly British sex farces (many by Ray Cooney) that give audiences (if not stuffy critics) the giggles.
Unnecessary Farce by Paul Slade Smith, an actor currently appearing on Broadway in Finding Neverland, is one very successful example of an audience-pleasing farce. It has had more than 165 productions in the United States, Canada and elsewhere, and now it’s getting another by Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre.
Artistic director David Arisco unfailingly embraces lighter fare in the summer, and Unnecessary Farce is about as substantial as cotton candy. But — and this is an important “but” — Arisco has cast his production with seven artful actors who (along with their director) know how to wring every last laugh out of Smith’s goofy plot.
The setup is this: Mayor Meekly (Allan Baker) is suspected of embezzling $16 million from his small city’s coffers, so two local cops have been installed in a hotel room to monitor a sting operation and arrest the not-so-honorable mayor. A camera has been clumsily hidden in a plant in Room 317, so that when hot accountant Karen Brown (Katherine Amadeo) gets His Honor to spill the beans, officers Eric Sheridan (Chris Crawford) and Billie Dwyer (Jessica Brooke Sanford) can burst in from Room 315, where they’ve been monitoring and videotaping the proceedings, to get their man.
Ah, but there are wrinkles. A farce wouldn’t be a farce without eight doors and some wrinkles.
Outsiders show up to complicate the operation, including the mayor’s muscle, a guy named Agent Frank (Cliff Burgess); a Scottish hit man named Todd (Jim Ballard), and the mayor’s wife Mary (Elizabeth Dimon), a woman not nearly as meek as she initially appears.
Further complications include the general incompetence of both Officer Eric and Officer Billie, the latter so unsuited to police work that she has proudly worn her uniform to the undercover operation; the inability of Eric and Karen to keep their hands off each other; video equipment that functions when it shouldn’t and doesn’t when it should; the tendency of multiple characters to end up in the same bed, in a menage a whatever, leading the mayor to incorrectly conclude that Eric and Frank are a couple.
What saves Unnecessary Farce even for those who may be mildly farce-phobic are the skills of Arisco and his cast. The actors go for truth even in the most ludicrous situations, and they know when to underplay and when to exaggerate. Under Arisco’s expert hand, their timing is Swiss-watch precise.
Baker and Dimon, who have the least stage time, are masterful actors who make every second count. Crawford, usually cast in handsome leading man roles, is an artful bumbler, and Amadeo oozes appeal as the brainy bombshell. Sanford turns a character whose main quality is messing up into someone adorable. Burgess is the lightest, funniest sort of heavy. And Ballard, with a great assist from costume designer Ellis Tillman, is a toweringly comic bad guy who doesn’t look nearly as formidable when stripped down to his plaid undies.
Oh, and that title? While Unnecessary Farce may read like an open invitation to pan-prone critics, it’s actually a clever choice, it’s real meaning revealed only as the stage lights go to black at the end of the play.
If you go
What: ‘Unnecessary Farce’ by Paul Slade Smith.
Where: Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday (additional show 2 p.m. July 22), through Aug. 9.
Cost: $53 Friday-Saturday, $45 other shows (10 percent senior discount, $15 student rush tickets, excludes Saturday-Sunday).
Information: 305-444-9293 or www.actorsplayhouse.org.