CLEARWATER — A clueless federal bureaucracy can make an easy target for satire. The British, in particular, love making fun of officials who revel in red tape.
Cash on Delivery is a fast-paced British farce, now coming into its second and final weekend at Hat Trick Theatre, the resident theater company at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
There is no getting around it. This show is torture, two and a half hours of contrived humor, often vulgar and gratuitously offensive, delivered in unbelievable and amateurish ways.
We're talking about a play that starts off with a man with a cold blowing mucus into a mixing bowl — and goes downhill from there. It's true, I have never been much of a fan of "bedroom" farces and the like. The silly sexual allusions, such a man pretending to have Tourette syndrome and burying his face in the cleavage of a female government inspector, seem a far cry from Monty Python or anything else funny.
Still, it is possible to imagine even this sophomoric show done much better. I was tempted to leave this one at intermission.
Written by Michael Cooney, the play debuted in London in 1996 under the direction of Cooney's famous father, actor and playwright Ray Cooney.
The humor turns on a likable but flawed boarder, Eric Swan (played rather well, given what he had to work with, by Nathan Jokela), who is scamming the government for benefits on behalf of his fictitious tenants. Mr. Jenkins, a Social Security agent (Larry Bukovey), pays a visit to gather proof, and things start to unravel.
The set by Kristen Kochanik Garza, of the interior of Swan's home, makes a favorable first impression. The only weakness might be the choice of decorating mostly with framed art or photos, which start to hang at 45 degrees after awhile with the repeated slamming of doors.
There are five doors on the set, and a very large number of gags on the other side of all of them. People get smacked in the face with them and are sometimes knocked unconscious. Eric shoves Mr. Jenkins through a set of double doors, allegedly to help himself to coffee and donuts, while he tries to get his multiple stories straight.
A closet under the staircase hides a wig and female clothing sometimes worn by Uncle George (John Gustafson), who suffers the worst head trauma caused by a door. Eric's wife, Linda (Molly Schoolmeester), doesn't know about the various scams going on, and thinks her husband still works for the power company. She doesn't take the news well, if running around screaming and crying is any indication.
Before the show is over, every imaginable slapstick staple has been used several times. To name just a few, pulled at random from a grab bag of farce — mistaken identity, inventive lying, cross dressing, people groping each other, a toilet plunger used as a weapon, gay sex jokes, jokes about dead bodies and several mentions of the planet Uranus.
This play, directed by Joe Winskye, is Hat Trick's second in the newly renovated Murray Theatre at Ruth Eckerd. The first, Deathtrap, was directed by Jack Holloway, Hat Trick's artistic director, and pulled off with a level of professionalism that very much contrasts with Cash on Delivery. For those reasons and others, the entire production feels like a strange choice.
Contact Andrew Meacham at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.