SANDY — Community theaters are constantly on the lookout for good farces, which can be hard to find. Cash on Delivery fits the bill. Since I first encountered Cash a couple of years ago, at Hale’s sister theater in Orem, I have thought it one of the funniest comedies around, and I eagerly looked forward to this production at the “Jewel Box” theater at Hale’s new complex in Sandy.
Concentrating on the excesses of the British social welfare state (which has much in common with our own), Cash on Delivery features a feckless scammer named Eric Swann, who receives unemployment checks (or cheques), disability payments, consolation adjustments, child support, and a dozen other expressions of the government’s generosity with other people’s money. Even when he wants to get out, he can’t escape, until a home visit prompts a hilarious sequence of impersonations, mistaken identities, cross-dressing, explosions (literal and figurative), and several “deaths.”
Alas, Cash did not deliver. Perhaps expectations were too high; perhaps the space is wrong for this play. Farce requires intimacy, and though the Jewel Box is small compared to Hale Centre Theatre’s new Centre Stage, it is still far larger a black box theater where Cash on Delivery would play better. The stage dimensions may have affected the timing and immediacy of the action. Farce is defined by door-slamming and split-second entrances and exits. If one has to climb a set of stairs to get to the bedroom or front door, the timing is off, and the production slows down. This one certainly did.
While the paced picked up in the second act (too late for those who did not return after intermission), this production started slowly. Scott Christopher, whose previous credits are mostly for serious roles many years ago, played Eric Swann. Christopher and his stage wife, Amy Stocking, (in the role of Linda Swann) did not provide the driving energy needed to launch a frantic farce. Things picked up with the entrance of their lodger, Norman McDonald, who functions as the eye of the developing hurricane in the Swann household. In this role Brandon Green turns in the performance of the evening, alternatively resigned and manic as he is sucked into the maelstrom, which in turn feeds of his energy. Watching Norman’s deterioration was worth the price of admission.
Glen Carpenter turned in a credible performance as the well-meaning but clueless government inspector, ingratiating but rigid in his determination to get the crucial signature on the piece of paper that will allow benefits to continue to flow. His boss, Ms. Cowper (played by Tara Berrett), advertised as more than formidable, however, was more like a wet firecracker when she did arrive. This character needs to be physically imposing and roughly the same size as Norman for the identity to be mistaken. The disparity was so great that it took me some time to understand that Eric was confusing Ms. Cowper for someone else.
Bradley Moss provided another rewarding performance as Eric’s partner in crime, Uncle George. It’s a mostly passive role, because George is unconscious for much of his time on stage. But Moss managed to retain my focus, even from under the sheet. And I appreciate director Eric Jensen‘s restraint. As Eric (Swann) manhandles Uncle George’s “body” up the stairs and into the window seat, Jensen passes up several opportunities for misapprehension that another director would have milked for a cheap laugh.
This brings me to the physical comedy, always so important in farce. In this Cash on Delivery production, the cast executed the physical comedy very well, which partly explains the better pacing in the second act. Uncle George, Mr. Jenkins, Norman (of course) and even Ms. Cowper contributed to the controlled mayhem unfolding on stage.
One side-note on humor of this kind: Has anyone noticed that with the greater tolerance of what previously unacceptable behavior (in the case of Cash on Demand, this would be cross-dressing), many of the funniest scenes in the repertoire of farce are going to lose their point? If it is normal for Eric and Normal (the confusion of his name is part of the shtick) to wear women’s clothing, even if they don’t “hang around in bars,” farces like Cash on Demand will become incomprehensible. The same may be true of many other classic comedies that have entertained audiences for thousands of years.
On the whole, it was an adequate performance, perhaps more than adequate, if not up to my expectations. It does raise for me questions as to the kind of plays the Hale folks will stage in that space. Tuck Everlasting is next, with My Son Pinocchio and Wait Until Dark to come later this season. These are all favorites of mine, and I can only hope that the Jewel Box fits them better than it did Cash on Delivery.
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