WillCall: Screwball Comedy is a Good Way to Cheer Up Any Summer Night

This is not quite the “laff riot” we all could use right now but, coming from the pen of Norman Foster, affectionately called the Canadian Neil Simon, you know it’s going to be good for some chuckles. Foster’s time frame is smack in the Late Thirties and the production crackles with authenticity – the background music, the clothes (by Michèle Young), and especially the dialogue with all the old-timey expressions, back when cool was chilled and gay meant happy. And, how refreshing not to be bombarded by four-letter words and sentences beginning with “I’m like…..”

It all starts in the office of The Chronicle, whose grouchy Editor, Bosco Godfrey (Daniel Leslie) dictates a letter to his spunky secretary Jonesy (Gail Johnston) who has stenopad in hand. The paper’s owner, matriarch of the Diddle Family, demands that prominent space be given to her son’s upcoming nuptials. She’s a bit suspicious of her future daughter in law and old Bosco hopes to uncover a juicy scandal behind the scenes. To this end, he assigns his star reporter to cover the story. Complications arise when a young woman applies for that job and Bosco decides to pit their talents against one another’s to see who writes the better story and earns a spot on the staff. More about these two rivals, later.

As they try to sniff out all the intrigue going on in this quirky household, we get to know the dowager Dolores Diddle (Sharron Shayne) who plays the role of the merry, still attractive, if slightly over-ripe widow, full throttle. She’s love-struck by her flamboyant suitor Peter (George Villas) who affects an aristocratic accent and strokes his toupee, while flattering the bejeezus out of the receptive Dolores. They are strictly from Overactors Anonymous but good for some laughs. The fiancee under suspicion of being a first class gold digger named Gloria (Jean Mackie) is a slinky femme fatale, and the twitchy groom, Chauncey (Nico Boles), Dolores’ cherished sonnyboy, appears not to be the freshest egg in the basket but is not quite the simpleton he’s portraying. As the charming ace reporter, Jeff, Lane Compton is perfect. Good looking, well dressed, with a wicked smile, a naughty boy demeanor and a line most women would find irresistible. He’s a bit of a male chauvinist pig and burning with ambition. But he meets his match in Mary (the excellent Kate Whitney) a spinsterish but endearing young woman, the rookie wannabe vying for his job. Stylishly attired in white gloves, hat and color-coded burgundy outfit from head to toe, she represents the business girl of the era. She’s altogether appealing as she tries to break into the male dominated field of journalism. Keep in mind, this was eighty years ago – she’s looking for love and a career. Sound familiar? The most hilarious character on stage is the Butler, Reginald, played by Mr. Theatre 40 Himself, David Hunt Stafford. One look at him and the audience breaks up. He’s clad in tails with a “do” of outrageous curls and a demeanor that’s both subservient and audacious. Unforgettable!

Highly acclaimed Director Howard Storm gets to work with a game cast that has a grasp of this type of humor and Theatre 40’s resident designer, Jeff G. Rack, has created a set worthy of his reputation with the help of Brandon Baruch on lights and Sloe Slawinski on sound. A good way to cheer up any summer night.