Farce, according to Wikipedia, is a comedy that deals with situations that are exaggerated, extravagant, and highly improbable. Their plots are filled with absurdities and with characters that appear to dislike each other at first but manage to wind up, eventually, in each other’s arms. These plays and films were very popular in the 1930s and were identified as screwball comedies.
And so Canadian playwright Norm Foster, mincing no words, titled his play, currently having its American premiere at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, “Screwball Comedy”.
It begins in the office of Bosco Godfrey (Daniel Leslie), a crotchety gentleman who is the managing editor of the local newspaper. He has summoned his best reporter, Jeff Kincaid (Lane Compton) to cover the preparations for the upcoming wedding of the daughter of the city’s authoritative society maven, Dolores Diddle (Sharron Shayne).
The assignment has an additional agenda, however. Ms. Diddle disapproves of her daughter’s fiance, (she believes he is only interested in the family’s money) and she wants the reporter to persuade her daughter not to marry this man.
Jeff readily accepts and is about to leave the office when a young woman named Mary Hayes (Kate Whitney) enters, seeking a job as a reporter. Even though she has never worked at a newspaper, she is the granddaughter of a prominent journalist and apparently believes that his genes will carry her through. Bosco, of course, turns her down. But she refuses to be rejected, and eventually, he tells her that she can accompany Jeff to the Diddle mansion with the understanding that they will both submit their stories to him, and the one that he judges to be the best will win its author the job at the paper.
Jeff greets this suggestion with the comment that ”The newspaper game is for men!” to which Mary responds, “You’re just afraid of being beaten by a woman!”
At the Diddle home, Dolores greets them with the tone and accent of Katharine Hepburn as she pauses flamboyantly in the doorway with her arm outstretched. In the other arm, she nuzzles Lucky, a small dog who has been dead for six months and is stuffed with the ashes of her late (and unlamented) husband. With his frozen stare, the dog appears unperturbed when she carries him upside down, dangles him by one leg, or tosses him heedlessly on the couch.
After a while, she is joined by Peter Terwilliger, the man she is planning to marry. (Which will make her Dolores Diddle Terwilliger, surely a name to be reckoned with.) He is a product of the “Tennis, anyone?” crowd and also the limp-wristed prototype of the gay man, as seen by his fellows. It’s 1938, after all. At one point, as Dolores is leaving the room for a moment, he smooths his hair for the hundredth time and gives her a kiss, declaring unctuously, “I shall be hopelessly alone until you return.”
The cast also includes Niko Boles, who plays Chauncey Diddle, Dolores’ addled son, Gail Johnston, Bosco’s secretary, Jonesy, and Jean Mackey, the vampish Gloria Fontana, who sashays through the Diddle house as if she owns it—and every man in it as well. But the Tony has to go to David Hunt Stafford, who plays Gerald, the hilariously loquacious butler with the outlandish curly wig. And kudos to Howard Storm, the director, Jeff G.Rack, the set designer, and Brandon Baruch, the lighting designer. Together they have created a single elegant set which remains dark as the light focuses on the area where the action, and the conversation, is taking place. It makes for a comfortable production that doesn’t distract the audience with the usual interminable blackouts while the players change the scenery and move the furniture around.
Theatre 40 has a long-established record of presenting wonderful professional actors in enjoyable plays, and “Screwball Comedy” meets their high standards. Even if you are not a fan of slapstick comedy, you’ll giggle your way through this one!
“Screwball Comedy” will play Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through August 19th at Theatre 40, on the campus of Beverly Hills High School, 241 S. Moreno Drive, in Beverly Hills. You can make reservations by calling
(310) 364-0535 or online at www.theatre40.org.