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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

Ryan.

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

show.

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

champions.

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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