Lexington's well-respected and long-standing community theater, Studio Players has always demonstrated a particular knack: uproarious doings by a strong ensemble cast. Its last show of the season, the rollicking British farce Funny Money, adds to that legacy.
The frothy comedy by Ray Cooney, first produced in London in 1994, details the shenanigans that ensue when a man accidentally finds a fortune in a briefcase mix-up.
Alex Maddox plays the main character Henry Perkins with a stuffy nervous energy that captures and projects the humor of his many dilemmas effectively. He carries the show with the timing and delivery of his lines, clearly delineating all the twists and turns in his actions and reactions. For all the silliness of the part, Maddox has achieved the creation of a complete character who is compelling and credible throughout the many absurdities of the plot. Well done.
On the other hand, the role of Henry's wife, Jean, is overdone by Stephanie Wyatt. She is funny in her showy role, but comes across as shrill and stagey by comparison to the other actors who flesh out their characters with less cartoonish strokes. Nevertheless, her manic energy is a comically infectious asset to the play.
As the Perkins' friends Betty and Vic Johnson, Erin Leland Tuttle and Jason Meenach add a lot of delicious flavor to the proceedings. Her daffy free-spiritedness and his sour curmudgeonliness are expressed with great variety and nuance, again resulting in performances that seem like real people caught in preposterous circumstances.
The same holds true for the sly, corrupt Detective Davenport (Kelly Hale) and the slow-witted, exasperated Detective Slater (Dave Dampier): They behave as real people in the contrived plot, thereby rendering it funny. Erica Friis as the resourceful low-class cab driver Bill also scores with inspired delivery of wisecracks and humorous facial gestures.
I was confused by the campily over-the-top appearance of Rob Maddox in a cameo as the gangster Mr. Nasty, but by that point only something garish could serve as a climax to the wild story, so I let it pass.
Really, Mr. Nasty's moments onstage are the only time the direction by Bob Singleton makes any misstep. The brisk pace and crisp delineation of the action serve the comedy well, and the expert staging helps elucidate the complicated plot from moment to moment. This is some of the best blocking I have seen in a Lexington show in years, and many of the region's directors could learn a lot from the inventive movement Singleton has lavished on this piece.
Furthermore, it is clear that he has insisted on his actors making the comedy character-driven, and not simply allow the plot to dominate. The characters come across as real people in hilarious situations, rather than as stereotypes working through a series of plot devices. This is the key to comedy, and clearly, Singleton is a master of the genre.
The unit set by Bob Kinstle and Dwight Kelley, costumes by Janet Kinstle, and lighting by Mylissa Crutcher continue Studio Players' reputation for solid production values.
Finally, although the British accents in this show ranged from the professionally consistent (especially Maddox's) to the endearingly amateur, the dialect work Patti Heying did with the cast paid off in a simulation of "Englishness" that was less jarring than most such attempts in this region.
What: Studio Players' production of Ray Cooney 1994 comedy
When: 8 p.m. May 10-11, 17-18 and 24-25; 2:30 p.m. May 12, 19 and 26
Where: Studio Players' Carriage House Theatre, 154 W. Bell Ct.
Tickets: $19 adults, $11 students. Available at (859) 257-4929 or Studioplayers.org.
Tedrin Blair Lindsay is a musician, theater artist and lecturer at the University of Kentucky.