Chicago Theatre Review
Furs, Farce and Fun
Not Now, Darling – Brightside Theatre
Set in a posh, high-end fur shop, owner Gilbert Bodley and his nervous partner in pelts, the highly hysterical Arnold Crouch, find themselves maneuvering their way through a day of endless demands and difficulties in their London boutique. Countless problems arise when their elite customers, three eccentric married couples, rush into the store with their immediate and individually unique requirements. Between these duties, the two furriers try to juggle everyone’s extramarital involvements, including those of Mr. Bodley, himself. Fur flies, doors slam, champagne’s consumed and undergarments fly out the window in this frantic, laugh-a-minute comedy.
The prolific playwrighting team of Ray Cooney and John Chapman are certainly the undisputed Kings of Farce. With so many comedies to their credit, like the hilarious “Move Over Mrs. Markham,” “My Giddy Aunt” and “There Goes the Bride,” this play was their first successful collaboration back in 1967. Chapman eventually adapted their highly-successful farce for the silver screen six years later.
Guest director Christopher Kidder-Mostrom, the Artistic Director of Commedia Beauregard, has staged his production with much of the requisite energetic pacing demanded by farce. Most of his cast’s timing and dynamism is spot-on. Timothy Sullivan’s Arnold Crouch sets the bar high with his comedic tone and timing. And, although the young actor sometimes has the tendency to swallow a few of his lines, as his character becomes increasingly befuddled, he’s the go-to guy who keeps this funny fur-ball rolling. Sullivan’s comedic brilliance is matched by Rob Cramer’s wonderfully looney and lascivious Gilbert Bodley. Mr. Cramer is always in command as the captain of this ship of fools, while being the character with the most to lose at any given moment. The ease with which he plays this kind of fussy role is brilliant and his chemistry with Sullivan is perfection. Kayla Boye as Miss Tipdale, Bodley and Crouch’s efficient and devoted girl Friday, is every bit as sparkling and hilarious. Ms. Boye conveys the driving, enterprising sharpness of her two supervisors, while still maintaining a flirtatious, girlish charm that makes Tippers so delightful and important to the plot.
The one weakness in the cast lies in Hillary Gokenbach’s enervating Janie McMichael. As a sexy, yet sophisticated young woman, whose husband apparently condones—even encourages— her chosen vocation as a stripper, Ms. Gokenbach lacks the expected spunk and sauciness of the role. The actress seems only to be playing Janie’s status as a wealthy married woman, forgetting that she’s also a gutsy entertainer, a ruthlessly manipulative nympho, to boot. Paul Chakrin is very good as her bullying husband, Henry McMichael, but his scenes and exchanges with Janie lack the promising sizzle and sparkle, due to his subdued sparring partner.
Sally Olson and Matt Gibson are both equally competent as Mr. and Mrs. Lawson, although Ms. Olson’s dialect floats in and out. Both of their peppy portrayals provide some necessary pizzazz for this production. The elderly and very proper Mrs. Frencham, played with dignity and determination by Yvonne Ambrose, and her longtime devoted husband, created by Jack Calvert, are a recurring treat throughout the play. In fact, the funniest scene of this production involves Calvert and Cramer, as Mr. Frencham and Mr. Bodley, in an hilarious, Act II discussion, based on mistaken identity, that leaves the audience doubled-over with laughter.
Gina Phillips is exciting and unexpectedly naughty as the mature Maude Bodley. Her continual arrival and departure, coupled with an eleventh hour surprise, makes Ms. Phillips marvelously mobile and ever endearing. And Genna Marie Walden is pretty and flirtatious as Miss Whittington, Bodley and Crouch’s Jill-of-all-trades and sometime fur model.
So much credit for the elegant look of this production goes to talented scenic designer, Eric Luchen for his Valentine candy box setting. The set is drenched in crimson draperies and pretty-in-pink doors, staircases and balcony windows. However, the director’s challenged to maintain the fast-pacing required of a farce when, in this three-quarter thrust staging, exits and entrances are slowed down when executed through the audience. Katie Gibson’s sound design sets the tone of this piece with bouncy hits from the Swinging Sixties, and Shana Hall’s costumes, particularly the many luxurious furs, add an additional layer to each character.
This delightfully frothy, funny British farce offers two hours of joyous entertainment and mindless fun and laughter. A talented cast, complemented by creative technical artistry, makes for a festive evening of escape provided by the always reliable BrightSide Theatre.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 18-March 6 by Brightside Theatre at
Meiley-Swallow Hall at North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth Ave., Naperville, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 630-637-7469 or by going to www.brightsidetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.