Farce Falls Flat

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

David Wiltse has written better plays. And Tracy Brigden has done a better job at directing.

Scramble! now at the Westport country Playhouse is traveling under a new name – perhaps with a reason -- from its previous incarnation in Florida. However, though we were forewarned by producer Anne Keefe with an anecdote from George S. Kaufman that if you want a message you should send for Western Union, we were unprepared for the awkward, trite presentation of events and a stage full of stereotypical characters

Granted this is supposed to be a farce but the farcical actions in most of the first act are stilted, and lack timing or any sense of rough and tough humor. They are generally dull and expected. It is not until the entrance of Candy Buckley in a dominatrix riding outfit in the second act that some life is breathed into this dull mishmash. Actually the latter half of the second act almost makes you feel that your time wasn’t totally wasted.

Farce needs rapid fire dialogue and action and in Scramble! the actors and director Tracy Brigden do not quite carry it off.

The story takes place in the editorial offices of a golfing magazine and its generally incompetent employees who learn there is a good chance that under a new ownership the deadwood will have to go. And believe us, based upon the activities of the characters, it will be hard to decide which ones are not dead wood.

Starting with the writer, Carter (Matthew Rausch) who dislikes writing and doesn’t do it very well, the abilities of the rest of the staff go downhill from there. Temple is a sexy do-nothing whose talent is that she’s allergic and truly has no ideas. Jennifer Mudge is okay in the role especially in the looks department. Jane (Rebecca Harris) is a shy inadequate human being whose language gets twisted up as soon as she has to speak and what she says is unintelligible. The boss of this operation is Sam, a butch taskmaster played by Candy Buckley who doesn’t know how to motivate her charges. And there is Otis (Colin McPhillamy), the bumbling, middle-aged son of the magazine’s founder who for some reason sports a British accent.

Into this mix comes Johnson (Tom Beckett) a flaccid attempt at creating a Buster Keaton deadpanned character that doesn’t quite come off. The staff believes he is the hatchet man the new management has brought in to cleanup the operation. Johnson, however, is a relatively good writer – he does some quick rewrites on Carter’s work – but he is a stutterer who gets stuck on a word like a broken record that apparently can be corrected by singing a song, which he does from time to time.

Wiltse’s attempts to use these people and their situation to create farcical humor doesn’t quite succeed. Only at the end does some genuine comedy emerge as the characters have a variety of evening trysts in the office and of course windup stumbling into each other’s relationships. There are some funny moments here that almost make Scramble! palatable.

A clever scenic design by Jeff Cowie provides a two office setting with a wonderful connecting closet filled with sporting equipment some of which emerges from time to time twisted around the bodies of cast members who enter the closet.

Scramble! is at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1 through July 26. For tickets and information call the box office toll free at 1-888-927-7529.

This review appeared in Shore Publications.

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