Roleplay unfolds like Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy on steroids. A titillating trifle with a surprisingly stiff kick like a single malt scotch served neat, it represents what British playwright Alan Ayckbourn does so well across his span of seventy plays. It sets up a massive comic relational disaster that delights its audience in its final arrival at a satisfying resolution after excruciating, ludicrous twists and turns. Stage West’s current production of Roleplay under master comic director Jerry Russell does Ayckbourn’s play full justice with an able, go-for-broke cast of regional talents. Is it filled with deep, penetrating life commentary and social relevance? Nah. Bring tears to your eyes funny? You bet.
It’s an implausible tale of woe and unintentional mayhem, delicious to follow. Lead character Justin (played with an endearing, cuddly, doe-eyed innocent victim demeanor by Justin Flowers) is hosting a dinner party for his girlfriend’s parents and his mother and her date, the first time any of them have met, in order to announce the couple’s engagement.
Girlfriend Julie-Anne (Cheryl Lowber in full on fingernail on blackboard mode) is candy box cute but a nightmare of ruinous complications, as are her overly doting, racist parents, delineated in perfectly maddening overbearing detail by the deft comic team of Jim Covault and Amy Mills. Add to the inflammatory mix Justin’s daft, inebriated, blunt-tongued mother Arabella (Judy Keith, giving a virtuoso performance in degenerate high style) and a drop-in upstairs neighbor, a lap dancer, on the run from a mobster brute boyfriend with a dimwit enforcer in tow. The recipe for total social disaster is complete.
“There’s no such thing as immortality, not in this life, anyway.”
Jerry Russell’s directorial mastery arises from his ability to help his actors play their arcs and hit their comic beats full tilt, without any unnatural pause or faint trace of hambone on stage. Under his solid guidance the complicated and scandalously illogical plot threads unfold like silk in Act II. By the time potty-mouthed lap dancer Paige (Dana Schultes believable as a sexy, scared waif) has given everyone a sample of her “services”, and she and her out of place, tough guy guard Micky (gun waving, perpetually scowling Jeff McGee) have destroyed the last semblance of proper dinner party demeanor, they have ruined Justin’s chance to marry Julie-Anne.
The audience laughs so hard it’s gasping for air. It all turns out fine, but you knew it would from the start. The lovable guy ends up with the right girl…happy lap dances nightly! Stage West’s production team works its customary magic in creating set, costumes, sound and lighting to bring this titillating trifle effectively to life. Dinner and a classic romp at Ft. Worth’s Stage West? What a fun way to spend a hot summer’s evening or afternoon.
Roleplay runs at Stage West through July 25. Call 817-784-9378 or visit http://www.stagewest.org
Buddy Myers photos