I love me a good farce. I really do. All those doors bursting open and slamming shut. All the different characters running after or away from each other. Mistaken identities, lies to cover up lies, and lots of over-the-top slapstick. Farce is the kind of show where… well, I think Ariel Mitchell (the show’s dramaturg) summed it up best in the program: “As you watch the show tonight, we invite you not to think too hard, but to sit back and relax… suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to be caught up in the whirlwind…” And I guess it’s my affection for the genre that compelled me to volunteer to review this show; my first time reviewing a show in almost a year.
Now, before we get into the review of the show itself, and because I seem to always narcissistically talk about myself during my Backstage Utah reviews, let me tell you about how the real-life farce got started before I ever reached the theater. Well, I neglected to do my pre-review research on the venue, and having never been to the Murray Theater before, I was unaware of the limited parking situations. I kept driving into and out of nearby parking lots in search of a parking space free from a “customers only parking” sign. I had at first thought to park at the next door post office, but such signs warned me away. I ended up parking a little ways down State Street at the Chik Fil A; which is especially farcical a parking place for me given my personally progressive politics. Anyhow, as I was walking up to the theater I noticed, draped over one of the “customer only” parking signs, a notice saying “Event Parking” and a parking lot close to full of theater patron’s vehicles. D’oh!
Now, back to the show itself. Although I wish the seating had been more comfortable than folding chairs (at least the stage is raised so the action can be seen from any seat on the floor), and there were some technical issues I’ll address as we go, I liked this production. It delivered fast paced action with well delivered, equally fast paced dialogue. Doors opened. Doors slammed. Characters chased each other. Identities were confused. Dirty jokes and innuendo abounded. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. All the fun stuff you expect from a farce, and with a couple minor errors, it was delivered almost perfectly. Those minor errors include a late sound cue when a gun was supposed to be fired, an actor who almost entered too early (Come on Mr. Suazo, you’re a large man in drag—people will notice when you have a false entrance, no matter how fast you catch yourself and sneak away), and a bomb explosion sound effect that was not loud enough to be convincing.
I’d like to quickly make some mention of individual cast members and their performances, but first I wanted to share a fact I learned as I was looking over the program in preparation for writing this review: EVERY cast member who had a bio in the program (ten out of eleven) are graduates of, or are currently attending UVU (Utah Valley University)! So, that’s why I didn’t recognize anyone from shows or auditions around town. So really, it was like a Utah Repertory/UVU co-production. Anyhow, that fun fact out of the way, let’s talk about some of the cast.
Jack Kyle Oram (Wally… aka the Bellhop) did a fine job as the title character. He was standing out in the lobby before the show. Not sure what having him out there added to the experience of the show, especially since he was only speaking with one patron and not actively intermingling with the vast majority of the waiting crowd. But as I said, he gave a good performance. James McKinney played Oram’s brother (Georgie), who most of the play’s action seems to swarm around as he hides under a bed sans pants most of the first act. I probably would’ve cast someone a few years older to play Georgie (not sure what age the script calls for) but McKinney did a good job with the role and did somewhat look like he and Oram could be brothers; at least on stage if not on film.
Benjamin James Henderson often stole the show with his Will Farrell like energy, presence and slapstick prowess. He often garnered the most laughs during the show as he played the overzealous and fairly incompetent CIA agent, Stan. Yeah… just like on American Dad, but the play came way before that TV show, so obviously Seth MacFarlane is a fan of the play. Or it’s a coincidence.
I enjoyed Jason Sullivan as Roger, the controversial writer who is the target of a murderous terrorist (Babu—delightfully portrayed by Robbie X. Pierce), and who has an annoying tendency to try to explain everything with poorly conceived metaphors. Aubrey Bench did a fair job as Sullivan’s daughter, Little Heidi, though I did wonder why they didn’t cast an actual twelve year old in the part, or at least someone closer to that age, but now I knows it’s because they couldn’t find someone that young in the theatre department at UVU. Just teasing.
Maddy Belle Forsythe was absolutely adorable as Georgie’s secretary and love interest, Heather. She exuded sincerity and naiveté in equal measure, and had good chemistry with McKinney.
Bethany Woodruff was able to portray the fame obsessed hotel maid Missy, in a role that could’ve easily gone overboard with how sexually aggressive the character is, but Woodruff just managed to toe the line and keep the character from becoming too vulgar or too cartoony. I think she was able to find the charm, even the depth, in what could have easily been a one dimensional character.
Finally, Jake Ben Suazo (who I called out earlier for a near early entrance) was terrific as Arlene, Georgie’s very masculine wife who, with the size and strength of a professional wrestler, tosses around and beats up on nearly all the other male cast members over the course of the show. You brought the funny, sir. Well done.
Well done one and all, including the show’s director, Chase Ramsey. Directing a farce is akin to herding cats, and Mr. Ramsey managed to deliver a very smooth show.
Before I end this review, I’d like to mention the fine work of set designer Kevin S. Dudley, costume designer Allen Stout, and house manager Adam Cannon. Thanks for the water, Adam.
If you like fast paced, funny shows and don’t mind folding chairs or UVU theatre students, go catch a performance of Utah Rep’s “What the Bellhop Saw”, playing until June 15 at the Murray Theater, 4961 South State Street in Murray, Utah. Just plan ahead on parking and bring cash for refreshments. For more about the show and the company behind it, check out utahrep.org, which just happens to be a site Backstage Utah founder and webmaster, JC Carter, also runs. The man’s a genius, I tell ya.
Always end a review with a witty remark or a blatant kiss-up. You can’t miss, either way.