Laughter broke out in the jam-packed theatre even before the first pratfall, which then only served to fan the funniness. Watching Beverly Cross’ adaption of Marc Camoletti’s Happy Birthday, as directed by Trey Lyford, is like getting a gift chock full of comedy for yourself. It’s a sexy French farce bound up in edgy British social strata, bursting at the seams with absurdity, about to just POP at any given moment.
Happy Birthday opens with Bernard (Greg Wood) contriving a way to have his mistress Brigit (Suli Holum) to dinner at his home, with his unwitting wife, Jacqueline (Susan Riley Stevens) present. Bernard invites his oldest friend Robert (Scott Greer) to the dinner hoping to pass Brigit off as Robert’s mistress, not knowing that Robert and Jacqueline have their own secret affair to conceal. Robert viscerally evades the entreaty, but is eventually roped in per Bernard’s insane insistence. Meanwhile Jacqueline has hired a temporary maid for the dinner, who arrives when no one is home to answer the door but Robert; when Robert hears that the maid (Jennifer Childs) is also named Brigit, he mistakes her for Bernard’s mistress. Comedic complications and counterplots, dizzyingly changing identities, chancy episodes of bedroom roulette, and other silly situations ensue. Lies change or fold, only to be propped up by even more preposterous ones. Brigit the maid has surely stepped into a mess, but manages to work it and clean up quite well!
1812 Productions is the only professional theatre company in the country dedicated to comedy (Happy 20th, 1812!). What makes their latest production especially noteworthy is that Childs and Greer, Wood and Stevens, and Holum and Director Lyford are all married couples, as well as longtime friends and associates. Perhaps this fact, coupled with extraordinary talent, explains the wonderful stage chemistry, ricocheting energy, and amazingly seamless transitions from one crazy moment to the next.
Wood plays his part with crazy midlife vigor and Stevens grants gusto to elegant upper crust wife, Jacqueline, while Holum brings off the sexy mistress with particular comic panache. Robert is given a serious knack for slapstick by Greer, and Childs sweeps the stage with her spot-on timing and phenomenal physicality. Incorporating detailed stage business together with bold blocking, this ensemble is not to be missed. The frenetic dance scene in the second act is guaranteed to garner guffaws.
Lance Kniskern’s swanky, yet solid, six-doored set is used to great effect during the many exits and entrances, and Alisa Sickora’s costumes complement both the set and the actors under Lily Fossner’s flawless lighting design. The production is set in the early 1980s, and pop music from the era is effectively used to punch up the action and also to nod and wink towards underlying meanings.
A playful present awaits at 1812’s Happy Birthday!
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15 minute intermission.
Happy Birthday plays through Sunday, May 21, 2017, at 1812 Productions, performing at Plays & Players Theatre – 1714 Delancey Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 592-9560, or purchase them online.