Theater patrons who have enjoyed actor Rich Aront in supporting, feature and character roles — the pompous Mayor Shinn in The Music Man and sleazy Howard in Applause come to mind — will be delighted at his performance in the lead role in Ray Cooney's Caught in the Net, at Richey Suncoast Theatre weekends through Nov. 7.
Aront is simply wonderful as the flustered Stanley Gardner, best buddy to bigamist taxi driver John Smith (Bob Marcela), whose double life is about to be exposed. Stanley goes above and beyond to protect his friend from prison — or worse, two furious simultaneous wives — even as he juggles his dotty old dad (a terrific Joseph Connolly), who thinks he's at a beachside resort and not in the Smiths' living room.
Caught in the Net is one long, satisfying belly laugh, thanks to an excellent cast, perfect timing, outstanding direction by Dee Ford, right-on-time sound cues by operators Zoe Brown, Shawn Perreault and Doty Brown and sound effects by Bruce Van Dusen.
Those who saw the set-up for Caught in the Net, the farce Run for Your Wife, at Richey Suncoast, Stage West Community Playhouse or the Show Palace Dinner Theatre will remember that John had avoided prison for bigamy when detectives simply couldn't swallow his story of having two wives just blocks from each other.
As Caught opens 18 years later, John learns that his 16-year-old son Gavin (Chris Cavalier) with wife Barbara (Jeaux "Jo" Brown) has met his daughter Vicki (Allison Iskowitz) with wife Mary on the Internet, and the two kids plan to get together.
John must do whatever it takes to keep them from connecting in person, so he enlists the help of his longtime boarder, Stanley, who is on his way to the Jersey Shore with his elderly dad.
As John runs from one wife to the other, it's up to Stanley to keep everything sorted out. It's non-stop mayhem that makes perfect sense, as Stanley juggles Gavin, Vicki, Dad, Mary, Barbara and a few people he just makes up out of thin air.
That it's not in Stanley's nature to fib makes this all the more hilarious, as Aront mops his brow, nearly loses his voice and reportedly drops at least five pounds each time he plays the role. It's truly a tour de farce for an actor who finally gets his due.
The whole thing takes place on one set divided to look like two homes, sharing doors, furniture and space. Thanks to designer Charlie Skelton's clever use of contrasting colors and props (Barbara is blue and traditional; Mary is yellow and modern), the single room feels like two separate flats, with actors no more than inches apart seeming to be in two different New York buildings.
Marcela once again turns in an award-worthy turn as the adorably two-timing John Smith, delivering a barrage of fibs, lies, prevarications, equivocations, cock and bull stories, and tall tales as easily as he maneuvers the streets of New York in his taxi cab.
Young Cavalier is a darling as the wannabe suitor Gavin to Ms. Iskowitz's cute but pouty Vicki.
The scene-stealer is Connolly, who takes the laughs up a notch as the leering, nearly deaf dad who gleefully misconstrues everything to over-the-top comic effect.
Ms. Brown does a fine job as the befuddled Barbara, and Ms. Larson is a pleaser as the angry, reached-her-limit Mary.
One sincere plea: If you see the show, please don't reveal any of the details, especially the ending. Playwright Cooney has a way of coming up with plausible impossibilities, and this play is no exception.