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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for U.S. 1 Newspaper and
posted on www.princetoninfo.com on February 15. All rights reserved.
Review: Tour de Farce
With a title that leaves little room for doubt about what we are in
for, comes the sudden impulse to count the number of doors in the
simply furnished hotel room (designed by Carrie Mossman), its
off-yellow walls as telling as the off-color and off-the-wall action
ostensibly prescribed by co-authors Philip LaZebnik and Kingsley Day.
A goofy-looking bellhop escorts a discontented woman to the room. She
has left her husband at the front desk where he is presumably trying
to find out what happened to their luggage. Within seconds after the
bellboy leaves, the husband arrives. It only takes a few seconds of
their conversation to realize that their marriage is on the rocks.
Nevertheless Rebecca Gladney, who is accompanying her preoccupied
husband Herb on a whirlwind multi-city book-signing tour to promote
his book "Marriage is Forever," wants to be sure of her investment.
Their conversation, mostly punctuated by Rebecca’s insinuations about
Herb’s sexual inadequacies, goes on hold when she exits to the
bathroom. Herb responds to a knock on the hotel door to find Pam
Blair, a local TV host eager to have Herb appear as her guest that
night. Having heard raised voices in the hall, Pam’s suspicions about
the couple are aroused. Nevertheless, Pam gives Herb the details of
his TV appearance and leaves. Rebecca comes out of the bathroom with a
headache and leaves the room to purchase some aspirin. Herb exits to
the bathroom paving the way for the hotel maid to enter the room from
the door to the adjoining suite. After stealing a watch she sees on a
table, she gives the all-clear sign to the indiscreet Senator Grant
The maid has mistakenly assumed that the room is vacant and will be
perfect for the married Senator’s peccadillo with his bimbo
girlfriend, Gwenda. During the ensuing hanky-panky, which includes a
little derriere slapping and handcuffs amid split-second
comings-and-goings, Pam has managed to hide Gunnar Gustafson, a
Swedish Ingmar Bergman-trained photographer in the closet to catch
Herb in the act. Of course, there is the senator’s wife, Delilah, to
contend with when she gets wind of what’s going on. Also not to be
overlooked is a singing accordion-playing nun eager to ingratiate
herself with Herb with the hopes of making an appearance on the TV
One has only to have looked at the program to see that there are only
two actors in the cast. The authors have calculated the action with a
meticulous if absurdist attention to probability. The dialogue is
silly to a fault: She: "There is something between us." He: "Where?"
This comedy ashamedly wallows in the broadly comical genre that has
maintained its popularity with the public from Plautius to Moliere to
Feydeau and up to the contemporary under-the-bed, in-the-closet,
out-the-window farces of Britisher Ray Cooney. Hardly in that league,
but nevertheless fodder for the undemanding, "Tour de Farce" tries
hard to duplicate that air of compromising naughtiness, questionable
wit, and mindless lunacy. But respect we must have for the actor whose
job it is to make quick-second changes of costume and morph into
different characters for two hours over two acts. Ames Adamson and
Prentiss Benjamin hurtle bravely through the shtick-filled demands of
this convoluted comedy with the speed and dexterity of Olympic
Adamson, a versatile farceur, has played numerous roles at New Jersey
Rep and other New Jersey venues. But none, I suspect, were as
demanding as the five roles he is currently playing. Shades of the
late comic Red Skelton can be seen in his recklessly over-the-top
acting, facial contortions, double takes, and blatant mugging. Funny
as it is to see a man romping around in boxer shorts, hand-cuffed to a
bed, or dressed in drag (think Barbara Bush), it is the aura of doom
and gloom that Adamson hilariously projects as the Swedish
photographer that rings the bell.
Benjamin may not be Adamson’s peer when it comes to defining a
character but she, nevertheless, employs some deft body language as
she assumes the guise of an Eastern European maid, the sexiest
maneuvers of the publicity-seeking Gwenda, the screeching of a
tone-deaf nun (eat your heart out Florence Foster Jenkins), and the
haranguing of the disgruntled wife. Benjamin is the daughter of
actor/director Richard Benjamin and actress Paula Prentiss, both of
whom were in the audience the night I attended, beaming throughout the
nonsense with parental delight.
There are moments when the actors have to change a wig and a costume
off-stage while they simultaneously continue a conversation as another
character. If the overall impression one gets of this comedy is that
it is less about its characters than it is about multi-tasking,
director James Glossman makes no bones about his willingness to have
his players chew the scenery with a ferocious sense of abandon. The
audience appeared to be seduced by the scent of amateurism that
pervaded throughout and they responded with vigorous applause at the
end. However, a director with a clearer vision and a stronger control
over performances could have shaped this hapless affair into a real
howler. Regional and community theaters with a small budget and a pair
of fearless thespians should have a field day with this one.
On a more sane note: executive producer of N.J. Rep, Gabor Barabas,
gave a short pre-show that touched the hearts of everyone as he shared
with us the news that he was recovering from a stroke. "How could I
play the stroke card and encourage subscriptions," he pondered to
himself as he lay in the hospital bed. Also a medical doctor by
profession, Barabas is also a theater lover whose dedication to N.J.
Rep is duly noted. Hats off to wife SuzAnne, N.J. Rep’s artistic
director, for getting both a show and a husband on their feet.
— Simon Saltzman
"Tour de Farce," through Sunday, February 26, New Jersey
Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. $30. 732-229-3166 or
njrep.org. Performances Thursday through Saturdays at 8 p.m., selected
Saturdays at 4 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
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