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By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic
February 12, 2015
WAUKESHA - Ray Cooney is considered one of the best British playwrights. He has even been called the British Neil Simon, which I think is a stretch because their comedies are quite different.
Cooney is best known for crazy farces with very improbable situations and exaggerated characters. Simon is more realistic all the way around. We can relate to his characters, whereas we are just amused by Cooney's.
Cooney's most popular plays are "Run for Your Wife" and "It Runs in the Family," both of which have played in this area. The Waukesha Civic Theatre has chosen "Funny Money," one of Cooney's more recent comedies, to include in this season's offerings. It certainly has its moments, but compared to "Noises Off" and "Lend Me a Tenor," two farces seen at Civic in the past year, this farce falls a bit short in the hilarity department.
The basic premise involves a mix-up in two briefcases. As Henry Perkins is riding in the train on his way from work on his birthday, where a small celebration awaits him, his briefcase and someone else's get turned around. The one Henry picks up contains 735 pounds of cash, a nice surprise. In order to wallow in his new-found wealth, Henry stops at the nearest pub to savor the moment and count his stash. In the process, he gets a bit drunk and arrives home in a state of anxiety-ridden euphoria.
He decides he wants to leave the country before he gets discovered, despite his wife's protests, so he books an immediate flight to Barcelona. From this point on, everything runs amok. A policeman barges in, accusing Henry of soliciting in the bar; Betty and Vic, the couple invited to his birthday party, arrive and are soon bewildered by what has transpired; Henry and his wife, Jean, keep arguing about leaving the country; a detective appears to report that someone has killed Henry and dumped him into the river; and an irate taxi driver intrudes regularly to report that the meter is running as he waits to deliver Henry and Jean to the airport.
Amid the chaos of phones ringing and knocks on the door, several characters drinking too much, an ornery cat, a few people trying to fleece Henry for their share of the take, and a patient detective who only wants a cup of tea as he waits for someone to come to the morgue to identify the body of Henry (who, of course, is still alive), there are many pratfalls, Betty frantically skating about the stage, Vic smoking pot, wife-swapping about to occur, and Jean becoming more and more unhinged. That about sums up the craziness. Mistaken identities abound; the only thing missing is the slamming of many doors.
The set design by AJ Simon and costumes by Mercedes Killeen nicely reflect the 1970s style, the show is fast-paced and well-cast. The participants include Noah Silverstein and Deanna Strrasse as Henry and Jean Perkins, Brittany Arndt and Bill Morris as Betty and Vic Johnson, Marilou Davido and Kurt Magoon as law enforcement, Kevin Koehne as the taxi driver and Mack Bates as Mr. Big. It is directed by Graham Killeen.
A fast-paced, quick-witted farce filled with hilarity
By Amanda Sullivan
Posted: February 10, 2015
Ray Cooney's farce Funny Money, now playing at Waukesha Civic Theatre, takes us back to 1970s London. ABBA's hit "Money, Money, Money" sets the tone as lights reveal AJ Simon's great scenic design complete with the infamous orange of the era. Like we're watching a TV detective show, the audience is introduced to the characters as they enter by a groovy voiceover, each striking a pose as they're announced before continuing on.
Director Graham Killeen has brought together a wonderful cast with impressive chemistry on stage and is spot-on in keeping with the fast-paced dialogue. Funny Money begins with Henry Perkins (Noah Silverstein) explaining to his wife, Jean (Deanna Strasse), that he accidentally switched suitcases and the one he has is filled with a huge sum of money—large enough to buy two one-way tickets to Barcelona. Silverstein's characterization of a man who's tired of working an office job and the excitement he feels after convincing himself it's OK to keep the "ill-gotten money that doesn't exist" is enthralling. Strasse also gives a fabulous performance as Jean, who believably begins as a peppy wife throwing her husband a birthday party but devolves into an aspirin-popping, booze-drinking woman unwilling to run away with him.
Inevitably, Henry's plan to escape before the "bad guy" he presumes is looking for the money is interrupted by a number of characters. Shotgun-wielding Sergeant Davenport is humorously played by the petite Marilou Davido, who is quite fun to watch as a bully police officer. Brittany Ardnt and Bill Morris play the Perkins' longtime friends, Betty and Vic Johnson, with accurate London accents and excellent character development. Ardnt is a feisty go-getter who impressively treks around the set in roller-skates the entire show, and Morris is Betty's confused husband who is constantly trying to figure out who has what alias, which in turn makes him a sort of guide to the audience as his character stealthily tries to get everything straight. The rest of the cast adds a great dose of lively energy.
By Marilyn Jozwik
February 9, 2015
Waukesha Civic Theatre has been feeding its patrons a steady diet of farces in recent months.
In fall, "Lend Me a Tenor" was expertly delivered, while "Noises Off," "Perfect Wedding" and "Curtains" have also been among the recent shows.
The latest fast-paced comedy at WCT is "Funny Money," written by perhaps the king of the British farce, Ray Cooney, and first presented in 1995.
The show is set in 1970s London — the era of bell bottoms, big hair and leisure suits.
WCT got the look right — down to a set that looks right out of "Mad Men" — placing the show firmly in the period.
Like all good farces, the pace is high octane with lots of made-up identities, confusion, double talk and sight gags. "Funny Money" has all those things, but for some reason the humor in the play went flat on opening night.
Lines that were meant for laughs just hung in the air with little audience response. Yet, the play has all the elements to make it entertaining, and this cast delivered the British comedy admirably. Maybe a little too much Red Bull, as the conversations were fired off in rapid succession.
What's it about
The play opens with Jean Perkins (Deanna Strasse) preparing for her husband Henry's birthday.
Henry (Noah Silverstein) comes home with a briefcase he mistakenly picked up on the "underground" that contains 375,000 British pounds — a lot of money. So much money that Henry — realizing it is probably ill-gotten cash — wants to fly out of London at that moment and start living his life in leisure in Barcelona.
Jean wants no part of it. She just wants to proceed with the quiet party she has arranged for the night with their friends Betty and Vic Johnson (Brittany Arndt and Bill Morris).
Complicating matters is the arrival of a police officer, Davenport (Marilou Davido), who spotted Henry at a pub repeatedly going to the men's room (he went there to count the money in the briefcase). Henry and Jean think she is there to inquire about the money, so a whole series of lies begins to take shape.
More confusion ensues when Betty and Vic arrive, as well as another policeman named Slater (Kurt Magoon), investigating a murder whose victim is thought to have been Henry! Slater brings Henry's briefcase, which creates another element of interest as the money case and Henry's case (which includes a chutney and cheese sandwich) get mixed up yet again.
The lies begin to mount and poor cab driver Bill (Kevin Koehne) — who Henry has called for a ride to the airport — pops in and out repeatedly while all the stories and new identities are swirling around and being sorted out.
The evening turns into wife-swapping, a booze-drug fest for the hysterical Jean, some gun play and other shenanigans as Henry tries to get his dream off the ground.
This cast did a fine job with Cooney's material, utilizing British accents nicely, handling the fast-paced dialogue and physical humor. But while all the parts were done well individually, it didn't make a satisfying whole.
Maybe '70s Britain just didn't translate well. Or maybe the characters just looked a little too cartoonish — Jean's gold pantsuit, Betty's and Bill's huge Afros, Slater's saddle shoes, Vic's long wig (that malfunctioned at one point).
Silverstein's Henry was totally in control, giving him moments of clarity as he plans his escape and hysteria as his plans unravel. Strasse also handled her character well. She played Jean for laughs as she devolves into a drugged-boozed mess, but the audience seemed oblivious.
Arndt and Morris as Betty and Vic were a nice addition to the madcap comedy.
Arndt's Betty character came wearing a hot pants outfit and roller skates (not sure if I missed it, but I was never sure why she had on roller skates) and she amazingly negotiated numerous steps and tricky staging without skipping a beat. She had a real comfort level with her character, with or without skates, which helped tone down some of the over-the-top performances. Morris' Vic was hip and very '70s, with a sort of George Harrison look about him.
Koehne threw himself into the cabbie character, doing everything to get Cooney's laugh lines out there.
But the laughs didn't come. Even the bit when the two couples blow up birthday balloons with helium and let out a line that sounds like one of the chipmunks didn't elicit much laughter.
Maybe director Graham Killeen pushed too hard to get the comedy across, rather than letting it come more naturally. Or maybe, with a tired opening night crowd, the cast just tried too hard.
Or maybe "Funny Money" just isn't that funny.
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Kevin’s infectious energy and positive attitude was admired and appreciated by the entire cast and crew. Kevin was always willing to pitch in wherever needed. He was the first to help pack things up at the end of rehearsals, he helped paint the set on several occasions, and he was always ready to lend a helping hand. In addition to his hard work, Kevin kept everyone smiling with his lighthearted demeanor.