A good farce needs cleverly stacked jokes, rapid-fire energy, lively acting and most importantly, it must be funny.
As directed by Elizabeth Day, Lend Me a Tenor, a frantic play by Ken Ludwig now playing at the Walterdale Playhouse, is slow to start but delivers its quota of belly laughs in the second act.
Day has crafted a three-ring circus complete with disguises, mistaken identity, slamming doors, Abbott and Costello crosstalk, double takes and pratfalls. And everything is at top speed and high volume.
In this slapstick farce, the three primary buffoons are Saunders (Andrew Mecready), a 1934 Cleveland opera impresario, his factotum Max (Kris Loranger), who dreams of singing a lead role, and Tito Morelli (Gerald Mason), an Italian tenor with a womanizing reputation.
The women meanwhile all throw themselves at Tito. His bickering wife Maria (Erika Conway) is constantly jealous. Maggie (Elena Porter), a dewy-eyed virgin and Max’s girlfriend, wants an adventurous fling. The scantily towelled Diana (Kristin Johnson), a company soprano, makes no bones about sleeping her way to the top. And even the air-headed, elegant Julia (Jan Streader), chairman of the opera guild, hints at getting into his pants.
The play picks up after Saunders discovers his invited tenor has accidentally overdosed on tranquillizers and cannot perform the much-anticipated Verdi’s Otello. A sold-out theatre awaits and Saunders moans, “They’re going to crucify me.”
At the moment of realization, the bespectacled impresario screams, reddens with apoplexy, shakes in a violent rage, quiets down and then roars into another round. It’s a priceless moment.
Mason’s Tito Morelli, acknowledged by many as Il Stupendo, is every bit a vain celebrity that lives life to excess. The silver-haired, temperamental ladies’ man is played with matinee-idol hamminess that completely delights, even if his absurdly thick Italian accent slips in and out.
At one point, there are two blackface Otellos running around as Max has been persuaded to sing Otello in hopes of salvaging the company. But it’s difficult to believe Loranger’s Max can transform himself from a wussy gopher into a confident, swaggering tenor just by donning blackface and a fright wig.
The elegant set is designed and built by St. Albert’s own Jim Herchak. The art deco design is a luxury hotel suite divided into two rooms with six doors, giving actors plenty of space and cubbyholes to play out the action. And with so many plays nowadays using just platforms and curtains, the realistic set is a visual treat.
At times, the lines are flat and the delivery seems forced and artificial, but ultimately the high spirits and hijinks deliver a well-enjoyed confection.
Lend Me a Tenor<br />Running until Dec. 12<br />Walterdale Playhouse<br />10322 - 83 Avenue