With the weather ridiculous in a bad way, theater audiences may be interested in a production that’s ridiculous in a good way.
The Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild is presenting “Caught in the Net,” a British farce by Ray Cooney that only wants its audience to keep on laughing.
“A Scooby-Doo chase scene is how I’ve been describing it to people who ask about it,” quipped Frank Rineck, who shares artistic directing duties with Robert Carr.
As Carr put it: “I’ve been telling people as I get older I find myself being able to do shallow very, very well. And you don’t get much more shallow than Ray Cooney. All you need is thread of a plot and some banging doors, and you’ve got it made.”
Last year Carr and Rineck co-directed the Theatre Guild’s production of Cooney’s “Out of Order”; “Caught in the Net” is that show’s sequel. However, they emphasized that it’s OK to see the shows, well, out of order. “Just more silliness,” Rineck said of how “Caught in the Net” differs from its predecessor.
How silly? According to the Cooney website, raycooney.co.uk, the plot of “Caught in the Net” picks up the “Out of Order” story 18 years later. John Smith is still happily married to two women, Barbara and Mary, neither of whom knows of the other’s existence; he hopes to keep it that way. John also has two children, son Gavin, now 16, by Barbara, and 15-year-old daughter Vicki, by Mary. The two teens meet online, are surprised to find each other’s fathers are remarkably similar. They plan to meet in person, which, as one might imagine, doesn’t go over very well with Dad.
“I don’t know where that man comes up with such outrageous ideas and situations,” Carr said.
He also noted that the show has “some kind of adult situations, so this is not a family show. They’re not obscene, but they’re very suggestive, as they were last year too.”
The appeal of doing this type of comedy stems from the fact they aren’t staged as often here as they are in Great Britain, Rineck and Carr said.
“American humor and British humor are entirely different,” Carr said. “Our comedies will not work so well in Britain just because they don’t consider them particularly funny. We love British comedy because they’re so ridiculously funny.”
Carr isn’t the only one working on the production who found “ridiculous” an apt descriptor.
“I believe the audience will enjoy the show because it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Sue Kelly, who plays the part of Mary Smith. “It’s funny, and it’s a good escape from the snow and the weather and the crap that we’ve been dealing with.”
Jarrett Dement, who portrays Stanley Gardner, also found the word fits.
“(T)here’s so much happening all the time,” he said. “And I’m not super familiar with farces, but there always something happening on stage. So I don’t think it’s a play where you can easily just get distracted by whatever’s on the wall. I think it will keep your attention and … it is good and funny. Plus, we all have ridiculous accents.”
While some British farcical shows have found success in America, notably Monty Python TV and film productions and the 1970s sitcom “Fawlty Towers,” Carr pointed one one major difference between the two styles of humor. “They’re not afraid to do stupid things; they’re not afraid to take risks; they’re not afraid to do caricatures rather than characters,” he said. “They’re not afraid not to have much of a plot but sight gags.”
American writers such as Neil Simon prefer actions and plot developments to be logical and thought out, Carr continued. “But with British farce you don’t need any motivation to be stupid. You can drop your pants just because it will get a laugh.”
“Which it does,” Rineck added. “It seems like there’s less limitations with this kind of script, with the British humor. There’s kind of, throw caution to the wind and just kind of putting it all out there, for lack of a better word.”
Other cast members also pointed out the more demonstrative type of humor “Caught in the Net” exemplifies. Matt Hordyke, who plays Gavin, said he thinks the show’s farcical nature will have wide appeal.
“It’s the basic form of comedy that everyone enjoys,” he said. “It’s the reason why the Marx Brothers are still funny and a bunch of other stuff like that.”
David Espeseth, who plays Stanley Gardner’s Dad, came up with a similar word: off-the-wall.
“People are going to go, what are they going to come up with next?” he said. “It’s funny, a little mysterious in an off-the-wall way.”
Brenda Lee Locher, who plays Barbara Smith, put it this way: “It’s so physical, and it’s actually more of a challenge to do it because you really have to let yourself go. And I think people enjoy watching people let themselves loose.”
While Locher described the play as well-written, she added, “(E)ven if you don’t understand the lines you can understand the physical humor that goes along with it.”
Weather not amusing
If Cooney’s aim is simple — pure entertainment — the play requires serious preparation. That’s why the brutal winter has not made it easy on the production team, bringing on scheduling headaches.
“Our major challenge has been the weather,” Carr said. “I say that because if you just had to worry about lines, acting and so forth, that would be fine. But it’s timing. Timing, timing, timing. Timing.”
Precision is required, Carr added. “It almost has to be like a piece of music with a rhythm and a crescendo … bang, bang, bang. It’s gotta move. And that’s got to come with rehearsals.”
Picking up on the musical metaphor, Rineck said, “Our band has to know each other too. There has to be a chemistry and a mutual understanding and a mutual agreement to take risks and put themselves out there and fall backwards and let your cast member catch you.”
You might say the cast has to work hard so the audience doesn’t have to. That is, when the production is humming along, the audience needn’t do anything more than laugh.
Acknowledging it may sound like “a marketing ploy,” Rineck pointed out the advantages to such as approach. “(I)t makes for a fantastic date night,” he said. “You go across the street, you get drinks, you come over feeling warm and fuzzy, you laugh for an hour and a half. You don’t have to think about what this means or what that means.”
Rineck acknowledged he has had to learn not to overthink the production.
To which Carr responded with a hearty laugh: “He likes depth. I’ve been trying to teach him shallow.”
But as he’s quick to point out, shallow means loud, long laughter. And being in an audience responding uproariously to the proceedings is something that can’t be experienced at home in front of a screen.
“It’s almost a community experience,” Rineck said. “Because when you come to the show the audience themselves have to come out of their comfort zone and feel good about laughing out loud with a room full of strangers.
“And there’s usually a point in the show where something will happen, and then that will break everybody out of the, oh, we’re not sitting at home,” Rineck added. “We can laugh, we can nudge the person next to us, we can get into this, and it becomes an experience for everyone, even people who don’t know each other.”
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