Longtime fans of playwright Ray Cooney — and they are legion in these parts — know that his specialty is over-the-top bedroom farces with mistaken (or transferred) identities, crazy mix-ups, double entendres galore, sometimes indecipherable Britishisms and plenty of big laughs. Think Run for Your Wife, Caught in the Net and Wife Begins at Forty, all popular shows at local theaters.
Move Over, Mrs. Markham, his collaboration with John Chapman playing weekends through Feb. 20 at the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse, fits right into that mode: loud, slam-bang antics with skimpy outfits and outrageous sight gags.
Alas, perhaps too loud and slam-bang on Thursday's opening night, especially during the first act. A play synopsis in the program calls in "a hysterical British farce," and some in the cast may have taken that "hysterical" part too much to heart.
It was only after the calmly comedic veteran actor Stan Kane made his appearance as the rather subdued, derby hat-tipping, tentative lover Walter Pangbourne that the younger cast members seemed to get over what may have been opening night jitters and toned down the frenzy. It became even more of the adult comedy it's written to be with the arrival of another vet, M.J. Rice, as the stodgy children's book writer Olive Harriet Smythe.
Those two exerted enough control to let two of Stage West's best — Jessica Virginia and Jennifer Vilardi — show what they can do, and it is, as always, sheer joy to watch them.
Mrs. Markham takes place in an upscale London apartment that is being redecorated by the ruffle-wearing Alistair Spenlow (Patrick Gonzalez), whose mincing mannerisms and limp wrists earn rolling laughs, even as he's shocked, shocked by what appears to be simulated homosexual acts (more laughs) by book publishing partners Philip Markham (a hyper Ryan Rogers) and Henry Lodge (Patrick Moran).
It seems that part of Alistair's decor includes an animal-print-themed boudoir with a big, bouncy, round bed that four philandering couples are eyeing for a tryst.
When the Markhams plan a night out, Lodge hopes to use the bed to connect with a telephone friend, Miss Wilkinson (a voluptuous Jeanene MacLean), while his wife, Linda (Miss Vilardi), plans to jump into the bed with Pangbourne. Meanwhile, Philip finds an accidentally discarded love note from Pangbourne to Linda and thinks it's to his wife, Joanna (Miss Virginia), so, in a jealous rage, he storms out of the house to go on the prowl.
Joanna sees his actions and decides to retaliate with a one-night-stand with decorator Alistair, never mind that the metrosexual Alistair has his eye on the Markhams' au pair, young Sylvie (Kaela Koch) for a little old roll in the hay.
Into this round-robin of bed-hoppers comes the prim and proper and highly successful writer Miss Smythe, whose scribblings can earn millions. If she defects from her current publisher to the office of Markham and Lodge, she could make them all rich.
Only thing is, she demands that her publisher be sexually pristine, and the Markham household looks anything but that.
Playwright Cooney's dialogue is witty and fun, best savored with a mix of fast, zany moves and lines delivered with deliberation and pauses. Opening night was heavy on the former, but cried out for more of the latter. If done, the show and its cast can fulfill its potential.