What would you do with 1,735,000 pounds? Hopefully do a better job of keeping your story straight than the zany characters in Ray Cooney’s Funny Money. An uproarious farce of epic proportions comes to the stage at The Bowie Playhouse through 2nd Star Productions taking the audience on a roller coaster of laughable moments that are an absolutely scream. Directed by Fred Nelson, this incredibly hilarious comedy is filled with high brow wit, slapstick comedy, and mistaken identities for two hours of action packed shenanigans that keeps everyone rolling in the aisles from start to finish. The funniest of comedies I have seen in community theatre this season, it’s a zinger you won’t want to miss!
Crafting a strikingly beautiful and quaint interior of the Perkins’ residence is Set Designer Jane B. Wingard. The attention to detail, from the intricately painted hallways and off-shoot scenes, to the dark wood and three-dimensional texturing used on the doors, is stellar; making the space both livable and realistic. Wingard leaves nothing understated, using rich warm blues and dark woods to create an established sense of a cozy home that has been thoroughly loved by its inhabitants for quite some time.
Director Fred Nelson hones in on the finer articulated nuances of farce, discovering a brilliant balance between the physical slapstick potential and intellectual humor of the script. Nelson’s keen understanding of comic delivery in true British fashion really keeps the show rolling, especially once the second act begins. Pacing is everything in a farce and Nelson nails it on the head, keeping the laughs racing across the stage, and the audience involved in the epic tomfoolery as it unfolds.
The production itself functions as an ensemble piece; everyone playing their part to make the moments of truth appear absolutely ridiculous to those of us watching. The cast as a whole makes a collaborative effort to play off one another and stay on top of the humor that is cleverly crafted into the script. Their execution of physical humor creates epic moments of raw hilarity, especially all of the “hanky-panky” under the blanket on the couch.
Tying all the loose ends together, Bill the Taxi Driver (Zak Zeeks) is little more than a cameo character but his presence is felt every time he storms into the Perkins’ house. Zeeks is a master of the sarcastic attitude require to successfully create his character, turning a phrase with a snappy delivery and sharp sense of when exactly to punch up the speed of his lines. Hit hot-headed temperamental portrayal makes his character wildly amusing, adding a finely polished layer of laughs to an already brilliant comedy.
Flipping lids and losing one’s cool seems to be a common theme in this farce, as plainly evidenced by Detective Slater (Robert Eversberg) late in Act II. Engaging in a fair bit of comical slapstick during the briefcase catastrophe, its Eversberg’s highly animated expressions and ridiculous vocal eruptions that drive the scene to hilarious conclusions. Having unearthed this spastic qualities from a previously docile, albeit startled, character, Eversberg’s role in the production is a boost of accelerated humor.
You can’t have good clean fun in a farce without a crooked copper. In this case Detective Davenport (Michael N. Dunlop) is your man. Dunlop’s authentic ease with the slightly shady character creates a series of silly scenes, the result of which delights the audience to pieces. It’s his rather calm and collected interactions with Henry Perkins that make him seem dull, right up until he gets tossed into the mix and has to play along, doing an exceptional job of fumbling through the web of lies spun on a moment’s notice.
Dinner guests always complicate the story, and in this farce Vic (John Wakefield) and Betty Johnson (Samantha Feikema) are no exception. Feikema has a high spirited approach to the friendly character, finding subtle ways to deliver humorous lines while still drawing out the honesty of her character’s situation. Wakefield, as the bumbling man who’s a bit slow on the uptake, is a real riot in the role. It’s Wakefield’s ability to remain blatantly confused and hilariously uninformed as the story’s twisting identities and ludicrous plot lines tangle about like a clothesline in the wind that really makes him worth observing. Matching these moments of mental slowness with comical gestures and facial expressions makes his role in this performance priceless.
Henry (Gene Valendo) and Jean Perkins (Mary Wakefield) is where the meat of comedy lies. Or where the lies of the comedy meet; maybe both. Valendo delivers every line with a biting panache that really gives his character a presence amid the madness. His vocal exertion when trying to keep Vic and the others involved in his extremely convoluted stories are uproarious, and when he tumbles into the sheet shenanigans beneath the blanket it’s no holds bar on the hilarious antics that ensue. Valendo doe a superb job of weaving a complex web of lies in this story, going so deeply into his character’s own untruths that you’re practically watching two different shows. You might need a flow chart just to keep up with who is who but it’s well worth the confusion for the resulting laughs.
Mary Wakefield all but steals the show with her drunken antics. Starting from a point of melodramatic hysterics, which border on obnoxious, she quickly mellows into a side-splittingly hilarious rendition of a woman tossed three sheets to the wind. Finding the perfect balance in her physicality and vocal slurring, so that it is humorous but still completely understandable, Wakefield delivers a dynamically comic rendition of this poor woman who’s gone over the moon and straight down into the bottle. Creating epic moments of raging hysteria in the first act of the play, Wakefield brings a dynamic difference to the second act, practically a new character with the way she swaggers and staggers about, sloshing her words and her gestures for the ultimate laughs.
It won’t cost you 1,735,000 pounds to go and see Funny Money, but you had better purchase your tickets soon before Mr. Big comes after you and you find yourself, shot, trussed, and drowned in the river, just like Mr. Nasty, and then there won’t be any booze or Barcelona for you.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.