Total Theater Review: Screwball Comedy Cast are Skilled Farceurs

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Prolific Canadian playwright Norm Foster pays homage to classic 1940s film comedies like “The Thin Man” and “His Girl Friday,” in his new play Screwball Comedy, now in a U.S. premiere production at Theater 40, directed by Howard Storm.

Foster, who has had more than fifty plays produced since 1983, is a favorite of Theater 40, which has produced one of his plays in each of its seasons for the past several years. This time around, Foster goes for the zany shenanigans of two newspaper reporters, Jeff Kincaid (Lane Compton) and Mary Hayes (Kate Whitney), as they cover a society wedding in “a large North American city in 1938.” Jeff is a vain star reporter, Mary a wanna-be journalist who is not afraid to stand up to him as they compete against each other with blithe, carefree abandon, trading wisecracks and insults even as they find themselves falling in love with each other.

The chemistry between Compton and Whitney is what makes this slight, silly play work so well. The two actors make a superb team, on the level of such screwball-comedy icons as William Powell and Myrna Loy, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Their comic timing, acting gifts, and sparkling personalities light up the stage and captivate the audience from start to finish.

Compton and Whitney are backed up by a cast of strong supporting actors, all of whom are encouraged to be outrageous and larger than life by director Storm, once an A-list TV director with sitcom credits like “Rhoda,” “Mork and Mindy,” and “Taxi.” It’s a good choice on his part, as Foster’s play has a thin story which needs much buttressing. That job becomes the responsibility of Daniel Leslie as the pompous city editor, Bosco Godfrey; Gail Johnston as his cheeky secretary Jonesy; Niko Boles as Chauncey Diddle, the “dunderheaded” son of socialite Dolores Diddle (Sharron Shayne); Jean Mackie as Gloria Fontana, the vamp who wants to marry Chauncey; David Hunt Stafford as the goggle-eyed, klutzy servant Reginald; and George Villas as Peter Terwilliger, Dolores’s secret lover. Together these skilled farceurs milk every one of Foster’s lines for maximum laughs as they gleefully go over the top.

Their raffish behavior takes place on a large, copious, manor-like set by Jeff G. Rack, Theater 40’s resident designer. Michele Young’s costumes and Judi Lewin’s hair/wig/makeup design are big pluses as well.

Niko Boles, Lane Compton, Gail Johnston, Daniel Leslie, Jean Macki, Sharron Shayne, David Hunt Stafford, George Villas, Kate Whitney
Set: Jeff G. Rack; Costumes: Michele Young; Lighting: Brandon Baruch; Sound: Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski; Stage Manager: Don Solosan