If community theater patrons in Pasco and Hernando counties ever took a vote on their favorite playwright, it's likely that Ray Cooney would top the list.
The British playwright's zany farces are filled with lovable characters caught in ridiculous situations, with lots of crossed signals, door-slamming, close calls and overtones of naughty sex.
Cooney's Move Over, Mrs. Markham, It Runs in the Family, Run for Your Wife and Wife Begins at Forty, for example, have been so popular that theaters have done them time and again. And since there are dozens more delicious-sounding plays in Cooney's repertoire, as well as collaborations with other writers, it's likely that local audiences are in for more.
On Thursday, Richey Suncoast Theatre will open one of his most popular, Funny Money, which not only ran for two straight years after it opened in London, but was also made into a Chevy Chase movie named the most popular at the 2006 Sarasota Film Festival.
In it, mild-mannered accountant Henry Perkins (Bill Schommer, Handyman in My Husband's Wild Desires) accidentally exchanges briefcases with a stranger on the subway on his way home to a small birthday dinner with his wife Jean (Ginger King, title role in Mame) and best friends Betty and Vic Johnson (Trish Farber and Barry Silber).
He opens the briefcase to get his gloves and scarf and finds instead several million dollars in $50 bills. Since the bills look grubby, Henry figures they're ill-gotten gains and decides to grab his wife and take off for Spain before the real owner realizes his money is missing.
That's when the ever-so-crooked cop, Sgt. Davenport (Nathan Sakovich), shows up at Henry's door on a totally unrelated matter, but Henry misunderstands, starts fibbing, gets his friends involved, and the mix-ups go into high gear.
Things get even more complicated when an honest cop, Sgt. Slater (Mark Lewis, Mayor Dawgmeat in L'il Abner), arrives to tell Mrs. Perkins that her dear husband has been found shot dead in the river, and she must go to the morgue to identify his body.
Meanwhile, Jean, a longtime teetotaler, has gotten drunk, Sgt. Slater is confused about what to do next, Betty Johnson has decided she'd like to go to Spain, too, and a mysterious caller seems poised to blow up everything.
"This is a really wild play," said Charlie Skelton, the theater's board president and longtime Cooney fan. "The audience is going to love it."