“Scramble!”--Westport Country Playhouse, Westport

             --Irene Backalenick

             

“Scramble!”—currently on stage at the Playhouse—is purportedly a farce, but proves to be more tragedy than farce. Tragedy for the audience, that is. None of the recognizable characteristics of farce are evident--at least not until well into the show. Where are the evidences of wit, of double entendres, of mistaken identities, of speaking at cross-purposes? “Scramble!” is, in fact, one long drag.


L-R: Candy Buckley, Tom Beckett, Matthew Rauch, Rebecca Harris, Jennifer Mudge.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Playwright David Wiltse, usually a skillful practitioner of the art, has moved into the wrong genre. His efforts do not pay off, not even as “pure silliness”--a term with which the piece was introduced on opening night. This particular “farce,” goes beyond pure silliness into pure emptiness.

What is “Scramble!” about? It seems that a group of zombies work to put forth a golf magazine. One and all, they fear for their jobs—and with good reason. The writer can’t write, the editor lacks ideas, the new man on staff has no idea what is happening or why he is present. When this hapless group is not thinking about survival, it focuses on the other driving force—sex. Both drives are constantly aborted, as the staffers stumble about the office.

Yet even this disaster of a play has its moments. Unfortunately, it is not well into the first act that Candy Buckley (as Sam, the head honcho) appears on stage. Buckley has the right approach to farce—zaniness with an undercurrent of realism. Her smile flicks on and off, turning into a fierce grimace, as she chops up her underlings or reveals her interest in horses. Others in the cast perform with varying degrees of success. Colin McPhilliamy, sporting a fake English accent, is endearing as the addled owner of the publication. And Jennifer Mudge, as the magazine’s sex symbol, is an eyeful.

But Buckley and company cannot keep this foundering ship afloat for two full acts. It takes far too long for “Scramble!” to unscramble itself and turn into farce. Not until the play’s last moments do the playwright and director join forces successfully. It is only then that “Scramble!” offers up split-second timing, hilarious lines and wild tributes to the god of Eros.

Meanwhile, time drags. Best to bring along a good book or other reading material.

 

This review also appears in the CT Post and on nytheaterscene.com

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