What The Butler Saw - October 22nd, 2007
International City Theatre, Long Beach, CA
Co-written by father and son Ray and Michael Cooney, the fabulous must-see farce Tom, Dick and Harry, directed by Todd Nielsen for ICT’s Center Theatre, marries wit and invention, zaniness and execution, all guaranteed to roll you into the aisles.
The family Cooney have dished up a wonderful script. Nielsen made it madcap and engaging, an evening of chock-a-block entertainment. The writing’s witty and snappy. It’s always in your face. There are no dull moments, no lulls to set up a scene. It’s like the finale of the July 4 fireworks display on the Queen Mary, when you see this amazing sequence, then another and, when you think it can’t get any more spectacular, another.
The story describes Murphy’s Law, when things can’t get worse, they do. Tom (Brian Stanton) and his wife Linda (Christy Hall) are giddy at the prospect of adopting a child. All that remains is a visit from adoption agent Mrs. Potter (Kerry Michaels) to sign some papers and a child’s theirs.
It doesn’t go that way. Oh God, does it not go that way. Somehow the fruit did fall far from the Kerwood tree. While Tom is respectable and middle class, his brothers Harry (Jaime Tintor) and Dick (Nicolas Levene) are ne’er do wells. It’s not that the brothers aren’t tight knit, they are, but to say they’re at least two thirds dysfunctional is to state the obvious.
Shenanigans heap upon shenanigans, disasters upon disasters, when you think it can’t get any more loopy, it does by a factor of three. This involves smuggling cigarettes, brandy, and, inadvertently, two illegal immigrants from France, hiding body parts from the morgue to lower the property value so Tom and Linda can buy the house, a Russian mobster, a adoption agent who’s got the hots for a constable, and unbelievable cases of mistaken identity. You get the picture. The Cooneys ratchet up the laughs and you can’t believe it can get any funnier until it does.
For this to work, the acting’s go to be razor sharp. From top to bottom it is razor sharp and then some. Stanton’s Tom captures the haplessness of Stan Laurel and the bluster of Oliver Hardy. His summaries of the stories he’s invented to cover himself are priceless. His movements are elastic, as if he’s the scrawny tree in the gale that bends and bends but never breaks. Talk about breaks, the ending’s sweet but you won’t read it here.
Tintor’s Harry and Levene’s Dick are perfect foils to Tom’s respectability. They’re a sconce on the wrong side of the law, well meaning but, well, of dubious character. Both actors nail their roles. If Stanton is elastic, then Tintor and Levene are downright rubbery. It’s almost as much fun to watch them move as it is to hear them speak.