Milwaukee Chamber Theatre sharply fuses bedroom farce with crime suspense in its season opener Paul Slade Smith’s Unnecessary Farce. Ryan Schabach directs a briskly-paced comedy set in a pair of adjoining hotel rooms in Sheboygan. A couple of police officers are engaged in a stakeout involving a mayor and conspicuous accounting at city hall. As this is a farce, things inevitably get incredibly complicated when the Scottish Mafia gets involved and a secret romance is revealed. The standard bedroom farce is beautifully amplified by crime mystery plot elements. It’s fun light comedy fusion to kick off the season for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
It’s a beautiful scenic design by Martin McClendon. A wall bisects the stage. The room on the left of that wall is the outpost of officers Sheridan and Dwyer. Ben Yela is sternly fragile as the undercover Officer Sheridan. Yela delicately plays the uneasy authority of a man in WAY over his head on an important stakeout. Rachel Zientek is deeply appealing as Officer Dwyer. She’s playing a police officer who has worn her uniform to an undercover stakeout so...y’know...her heart is in the right place, but she’s not exactly the most functional member of the Sheboygan police force.
The motel room on the right is identical to its counterpart on the other side of the wall in every detail down to the placements of the identical art prints on the walls. The room plays host to a meeting between the mayor and his new accountant who is secretly working with the police on the sting operation. Amber Smith deftly balances between confidence and vulnerability in a role which also finds her as a very nuanced and engaging romantic lead. She and Zienek have very impressively sophisticated grasp of the physical end of the comedy. There’s a subtlety to nonverbal comedy that both Smith and Zientek handle brilliantly. They both have a very clever awareness of how their respective sections of the chaos onstage fits into everything else that’s going on.
Local theatre veterans Jonathan Gillard Daly and Jenny Wanasek are cleverly comic as the mayor and his wife—stereotypical small town Wisconsinites on the surface with much more going on in beneath the surface for both of them. Their ability to play simplicity on the surface with a deep sophistication lurking underneath is an ideal job for a pair of seasoned actors.
Tim Higgins plays Agent Frank--the Mayor’s bodyguard who...in spite of his apparent competency is ALSO in way over his head. Higgins’ mastery of verbal comedy allows comedy to hit that really has no business working on its own. This guy has been with ComedySportz for a quarter century. He knows how to deliver comedy and fuse it perfectly into a narrative. His Sconnie accent is probably the best. He’s amplifying it and exaggerating it a little bit, but it’s perfect. Having grown-up in northeastern Wisconsin, it’s really difficult for me to hear most actors try to do a working-class Wisconsin accent. It’s really, really hard for most actors to nail in just the right way. Higgins has it down perfectly, which lends a great deal of atmospheric authenticity to the rest of the production.
And Rick Pendzich plays a weird Scottish hitman. It’s weird. Just weird. But good.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Unnecessary Farce runs through August 25 at the Broadway Theatre Center on 158 N. Broadway. For ticket reservations, call 414-291-7800 or visit Milwaukee Chamber Theatre online.