Corrections or additions?

This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the

April 18, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Tons of Money’

Miss Benita Mullet: "The early bird catches the

worm, my dear." Louise Allington: "If there’s only one worm,

why should I spoil the market?"

Alan Ayckbourne’s 1980s adaptation of the 1920s farce, "Tons of

Money," has a bit less slapstick humor and physical comedy than

is generally found in your standard run-of-the-mill farce. But what

it lacks in door-slamming is more than made up for in witty and

entertaining

dialogue. And Off-Broadstreet Theater has brought together a walloping

good cast that knows how to deliver a good line or a crooked sneer.

"Tons of Money," the Hopewell dessert theater’s second helping

of the season, runs Friday and Saturday evenings, with matinees on

Sundays, though Saturday, May 19.

The story is sweetly improbable. Aubrey Henry Maitland Allington (Gary

VanLieu) and his wife, Louise (Suzanne Houston), have been living

high on the hog for some time. Unfortunately, their high standard

of living has all been on credit, and the creditors are becoming

annoyingly

impatient. But when Aubrey suddenly gets word that he has inherited

$470,000, all their troubles seem solved. Unfortunately the Allingtons

are so deep in debt that if they were pay their creditors there be

would nothing left for them to splurge with. So they decide to come

up with a plan to get the credit hounds off their back and still keep

their $470,000.

To their delight, they discover a clause in the will that states that

if Aubrey were to pass from this mortal coil, his long missing cousin,

George Maitland, would inherit the money. George has been presumed

dead for many years, and this is the heart of the Allingtons’ scheme.

Aubrey decides to fake his own death, with the help of his wife

Louise,

and then come back under the guise of Cousin George to collect the

inheritance.

But of course, as in any farce, nothing goes the way it is planned,

and there is a host of charmingly improbable misunderstandings that

fuel the play and help keep the comic sparks flying.

Producing a farce is a high-risk venture because it needs to run as

smoothly as a race car in order to keep from falling flat. This

requires

a highly skilled cast, which is what this production has. But

Off-Broadstreet

is especially fortunate in that while each actor is very funny, they

are also individually unique, and all complement one another’s style,

making a tasty comic soup.

Gary VanLieu is grandly goofy as Aubrey. He seems to have a kind of

rubber-face that bounces from little boy innocence to raw greed to

blown-up confusion at the flick of a wick. Suzanne Houston as Louise

Allington is quick to put on a pout or curl her face into a sneer

that can hit her target from across a crowded stage. Together they

make a pleasing comic pair, with the chemistry to appear believable

as a couple (no small feat) with a knack for hitting their comic

stride

just at the right moment.

Rob Pherson as the Allingtons’ butler is equally

successful,

and is very funny in a quite different way. His brand of comedy is

to allow things to just happen around him, in an understated way,

and let his dead-pan looks take care of the rest. This gives the

audience

the opportunity to see the play in a slightly different light,

bouncing

their response off of his. Catherine Rowe as the Allingtons’ maid

plays nicely off of Pherson’s understated comic gifts, flitting about

him like a butterfly.

Michael Lawrence as the solicitor has a frantic manner about him that

puts him in a different comic ballpark. He seems calm on the outside

but inside there lurks a hepped-up Daffy Duck waiting to escape.

Adding a gentle sexiness to the show is Candace Gallagher as Louise’s

slightly bawdy friend Jean. June Connerton is also a comic plus as

the stuck-in-her-own-head Miss Benita Mullett. Scott Hubscher, as

Giles the gardener, has a strong presence that grabs attention as

soon as he walks out on stage. Together, the ensemble creates a warmth

that adds much to the production.

Robert Thick as director does an excellent job both reining in and

focusing this high-potency comic hodgepodge. Although he allows every

character their moment in the spotlight, no one overstays their

welcome

or strays off the straight and narrow path required to create an

effective

comedy. Another subtle plus is that Thick has not allowed any of the

characters to become caricatures by stepping into flat-out zaniness,

nor has he permitted them more than a grain of sarcasm. This gives

the audience the chance to enter the play on their own terms, while

also giving the show a lot of heart

British director Peter Hall once said that to play Ayckbourne well,

"you have to dig deep, be serious, and then get laughed at."

That is exactly what Thick and his cast have accomplished.

— Jack Florek

Tons of Money, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South

Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $20.50 & $22. Fridays

through

Sundays, until May 19.


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