“Scramble!”

By Susan Granger

The Westport Country Playhouse’s choice of David Wiltse as playwright-in-residence has given Fairfield County audiences world premieres of “Triangles for Two,” “The Good German” and “Sedition,” along with “A Marriage Minuet” and “Temporary Help.” Both a playwright and a novelist, David Wiltse has a distinctive point-of-view that’s both perceptive and provocative.

“Scramble!” is a concept he’s been tinkering with – on and off – for years. Under the title “Hatchetman,” it was originally developed at the Theater Artists Workshop and then produced at Florida Stage. As directed by Tracy Brigden, it’s a farce that goes awry.

In a stilted series of loosely connected, madly incoherent scenes, the inept staff of a golf periodical discovers that their magazine has been sold and there’s a spy in their midst, reporting to management about who’s qualified to stay and who isn’t. Suspicions fall on a nerdy newcomer, Johnson (Tom Beckett), who persistently scribbles in a tiny notebook that he locks in a desk drawer. So he’s feted and fawned over by the resident sex symbol (Jennifer Mudge), frenzied writer (Matthew Rauch), unintelligible misfit (Rebecca Harris), dominatrix editor-in-chief (Candy Buckley) and bumbling, memory-challenged son (Colin McPhillamy) of the magazine’s founder.

At the core of Wiltse’s zany, satiric thrust is his pungent observation that the insecure dilettantes who comprise the staff cannot even play golf, the sport about which they’re supposed to write. That’s a clever premise - rooted in his brief sojourn writing for a tennis magazine which led to his hit Broadway play “Doubles” - but it doesn’t mesh with the physical comedy necessary for farce. On scenic designer Jeff Cowie’s clever set, doors slam, chaos reigns in the storage closet and mistaken identity bits abound. It’s frenetic but not very funny.

“Scramble” plays at the Westport Country Playhouse through July 26th.

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