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Caught In The Net

by Ray Cooney

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 3627

SHOWING : January 20, 2010 - February 21, 2010



Director Alan Kilpatrick
Director Jessica Phelps West
Scenic Designer John Thigpen
Gavin Nick Arapoglou
John Allan Edwards
Stanley Christopher Ekholm
Barbara Wendy Fulton-Adams
Dad Marshall Marden
Mary Holly Stevenson
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Farcing the Issue
by Dedalus
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Farce is a very specific, very demanding genre. Far removed from the “Realism-Is-All-That-Counts” school that many (most?) young actors embrace, it is a highly stylized dive into desperate absurdity. If I were to engage in a critical discussion of the form, I would say it is really about people behaving badly, then going through ever-more-absurd hoops of desperation before coming up for air.

Which brings us to Ray Cooney, who, if not farce’s most practiced practitioner could certainly be called its most prolific. With “Caught in the Net,” he returns to the same characters and situation from his hit “Run for your Wife,” the charmingly amoral tale of an unrepentant London bigamist and his desperate efforts to keep his wives apart.

Here, it is many years later, and London taxicab driver John Smith has teenage children by his separate wives. The kids, having met on-line and been surprised at all they have in common, decide to meet. John Smith (and don’t you just love the banal ordinariness of the name?) enlists his hapless lodger, Stanley Gardner into running interference while he tries to keep his curious children apart. Add to the mix Stanley’s doting (but dotty) Dad, two teenagers desperate to meet, the every flummoxed and outraged Mrs. Smiths, and a set that combines both Smith households at the same time in a swirling soup of logistical forces, and you have the ingredients for another frantic Cooney romp, even with its completely absurd plot-twist denouement that seems, considering the silliness leading up to it, oddly “right.”

Let me be up front here – I enjoy farce. I love the craft involved in doing it correctly, the balanced mixture of desperation and over-the-top absurdity, the split-second timing required to “sell” the humor, the exaggerated mannerisms, and the seeming naturalness of what are, upon analysis, ridiculous plot contrivances. I even love how the characterizations, by definition (it seems), are broad-stroke, near stereotypes that need the services of a top-notch cast to flesh out into seeming multi-dimensions.

And, for the most part, I really liked Theatre in the Square’s production of “Caught in the Net.” Co-directors Alan Kilpatrick and Jessica Phelps West have composed an almost musical stream of perfectly timed door slams, dialogue and action, allowing no moment to drag with excess exposition or linger with ill-timed “moments.” If I wasn’t laughing at every gag, at least I was smiling. If I wasn’t fully convinced by all the characterizations, at least I was semi-seduced by them. If I was a tad distracted by the patchwork wallpaper of the set, I wasn’t disappointed by the plethora of doors, primed and ready for slamming.

The cast was also suitably over-the top. Allan Edwards gave John Smith an ordinary “everyman” quality that belied the not-so-ordinary situation he has created for himself. Wendy Fulton-Adams and Holly Stevenson are quite different, quite convincing Mrs. Smiths, suitably puzzled by the extremity their situation, hopelessly impotent in their efforts to gain a little control. Nick Arapoglou and Kate Dorrough are nicely calm and pleasant as the teenagers, forces “to be reckoned with” (in their own right), more than mere pawns of the script. Marshall Marden’s “Dad” remains a bit one-note, hitting every doddering caricature note strongly, but displaying an agile physicality that is perfectly at home with these other people.

But it is Christopher Ekholm’s Stanley Gardner who is the comic engine of this show, stealing every scene with his efforts to bring everything to a quick and tidy conclusion so he can finally take off on vacation. And it is his always-ridiculous machinations that fuel the desperation fire that keeps getting hotter and hotter. I loved his seeming calm acceptance of the fire that seems to be cooking him alive, his blithe acceptance of every absurd machination that comes his way, and his razor-edge tap dance that more often than not, just makes things worse.

I know this sort of farce is not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m certain too many of us have been subjected to too many of Cooney’s “variations on a theme.” But, for my tastes, this sort of romp is a welcome diversion, a reminder of the place “craft” has in the acting world, a reminder that theatre is an art that can create its own “reality,” a reminder that farce is one of the more enjoyable “faux reality” worlds that theatre can give us.

A visit to the Smith’s homes is well worth your time. Just don’t let those slamming doors hit you on the way out. Or In.

-- Brad Rudy (



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