Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Stage

Review: Despite flaws, plenty of guffaws in Stage West's 'A Bedfull of Foreigners'

Probably the most vexing decision the director of a play set in a foreign country must make is what to do about accents.

Should Shakespeare be done in Elizabethan English? Should everyone in A Little Night Music have a Swedish accent? Should Fiddler on the Roof be done with Russian enunciation? What about any Ray Cooney English farce?

Kathy Capelle, the director of A Bedfull of Foreigners, playing weekends through Sunday at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill, had an even more daunting task. Bedfull is set in a small French hotel near the German border, with guests and employees from England, France and, perhaps, Hungary or Mexico. Accents could come from all over the map. And that, indeed, is what they did, including from the plain ol' U.S. of A. It wouldn't be disconcerting, except that some of the players switched back and forth throughout the production on opening night.

But that isn't the only problem with this frothy bedroom farce. Playwright Dave Freeman provides an inherently funny situation — the last room at the rundown hotel is accidentally double booked, once to middle-class English couple Brenda (Dee Curran) and Stanley (Tom Venable) and then to philandering traveling biscuit (that's cookies to us locals) seller Claude (Jim Hansen). The room-sharing might have worked out, except that Claude has invited his sexy French mistress, Simone (Cheryl Roberts), to come along for some hanky-panky, and his strong-willed wife, Helga (Jeanene MacLean), decides to show up to help hubby celebrate his birthday.

Such a setup! — especially when you add an amorous hotel owner/manager, Heinz (Sam Petricone), and a tipsy handyman/porter, Karak (Dalton Benson).

As in most good comedy/farces, there are close encounters, as the participants barely miss seeing each other; doors open, stick and slam, and all of the guilty parties try to fib their way out of a mess.

There isn't a lot of substance. So, to make this show work best takes a lot of physical humor, sight gags and over-the-top playing. Benson and Petricone really get that, Benson with terrific facial expressions, perfect comic timing and a consistently inconsistent accent (that's part of his character), and Petricone, with sweeping gestures and bombastic exclamations.

The rest of the cast members have their moments — Roberts' Simone in comedic pratfalls, lewd dancing and one terrific sight gag; MacLean's Helga, as an overly enthusiastic nurse and sex-starved, misunderstood wife; Venable's Stanley, as an eager, accidental adulterer, though we do wish he would speak out so we don't miss his best lines; Hansen's Claude, as the not-really-all-that-uptight Englishman, and Curran's befuddled Brenda.

But the timing and pacing of the entire show drags, with too much hesitation in the delivery of the dialogue. This show needs to tighten up and keep 'er going in order to keep the audience alert and involved. Those lines should come machine-gun fast, with handyman Karak providing the slower, more deliberate moments to let us catch our breath and enjoy some languid laughs.

That said, this Bedfull may not be laugh-a-minute, but there are enough good guffaws to make the show worth seeing.

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