‘Run for Your Wife,” by Ray Cooney, the last play in Off-Broadstreet Theater’s 2006-2007 season (the 2007-’08 season begins in August), has been described by the producers as a “zany summer show.” Just how zany things might be should be apparent to those who look in their programs before curtain time to find out where and when the play is set: “The action…takes place in the Wimbledon flat of John and Mary Smith, and, simultaneously, in the Streatham flat of John and Barbara Smith.” A glance at the stage provides another clue. The simple but stunning set is completely symmetrical, down to every detail. The window is the same in both flats; both flats have the same wallpaper, except that it is coral on one side of the stage and pale blue on the other. Each apartment has a wing chair like the other except for the color of its upholstery. Two paintings are in each apartment, one large, one small, similar, but with colors that match the decor. The hanging plants are the same. In the middle of the central space is the sofa, the only object that is not repeated, with a single cushion.
John Smith is a London taxi driver who has two wives and two apartments. By maintaining a strict schedule, all carefully noted in code in his pocket calendar (MWMLWB means morning with Mary, lunch with Barbara), he has been able to maintain his double life without discovery. But his life falls apart when he tries to protect an old woman from muggers only to have her hit him on the head so hard that he ends up in the hospital and the police become involved. His time in the hospital has, of course, disrupted his tight schedule, and the blow to his head has disturbed his memory, and he begins to encounter difficulties putting his life back in order.
You may have thought Smith’s life couldn’t become any more complicated, but it does — and so do the lives of an upstairs neighbor who had only meant to be helpful, and even those of the two detectives (one from each of the wives’ districts), and eventually, of course, of the two wives. Only the upstairs neighbor from the other apartment, who has embraced 1980s stereotypes of gay mannerisms, seems unfazed by the chaos.
But the mayhem does not exist solely in the plot. Cooney, known as a master of farce, is also fond of word play, including double entendre, and one of the pleasures of “Run for Your Wife” is realizing you’ve just been verbally tricked. (One of the frustrations is realizing you’ve just missed something because the words are going by so quickly.) And because each character has a different idea of the chain of events, the same remarks can have entirely different meanings for different characters. Double takes abound, and attempts to explain away the implications only make matters worse.
Steve Lobis, whom Off-Broadstreet regulars may remember as the friend in the theater’s recent production of “Frankenstein,” ably plays John Smith as an unlikely candidate for such a busy romantic life. The two wives are played by Amy Locane (Barbara Smith) and Alison Quairoli (Mary Smith), the two detectives by Todd P. Gregoire (Detective Troughton) and John T. Grewen (Detective Porterhouse). Double cast as a reporter and the flamboyantly gay neighbor is Michael A. Iacovelli. Deftly keeping the show moving yet understandable is Off-Broadstreet’s Robert Thick, who with his wife, Julia Thick, runs the theater. The attractive and functional costumes are by Ann Raymond.
“Run for Your Wife” is apparently London’s longest-running comedy, with 3,400 performances over a nine-year run. (This, of course, doesn’t touch Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap,” described as the longest- running play in the English language, but it’s still pretty impressive.) There is something special about a farce that involves not just physical chaos but verbal chaos as well. And those who find such a mix appealing should run, not walk, straight to Off-Broadstreet Theater.
Run for Your Wife, through July 21, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Ray Cooney’s British farce about a taxi cab driver with two wives both living in London. $25.50 to $27.25. 609-466-2766.