The New Jersey Repertory Company has opened its new season with Tour de Farce, a dinner theatre show without the dinner.
Written by Kingsley Day and Philip LaZebnik and directed by James Glossman, the comedy stars Prentiss Benjamin and Ames Adamson, who play 10 different characters who enter and exit at the speed of light through three different doors. The whole play takes place in a hotel bedroom.
LaZebnik's writing and co-writing credits include the screenplays for Disney's Pocahontas and Mulan as well as episodes of Wings, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine on TV. Day is a familiar face in Chicago, where he has numerous acting credits as well as a résumé as a composer and musical director. One can see how the two had fun writing Tour de Farce, a spoof of a genre popular in the '70s and '80s.
As in many sex farces, there are familiar setups: a husband and wife having marital problems; a U.S. senator and his mistress having an affair; a confused bellboy; an immigrant housemaid who takes advantage of each situation. There is also a Swedish cameraman, a late-night TV talk-show host, and an accordion-playing nun in full habit. It all makes perfect sex-farce sense but for the nun: Why? What? How? She adds nothing to the plot -- simple as it is -- except to give the actors time to change costumes.
Still, it is the actors' ability to change into and out of costume and character that is the production's most entertaining element. With layered costumes and bathrobes, beards and wigs, body language and accents, Benjamin and Adamson operate at alarming speed. Sometimes we see only heads popping out of doors or from underneath the bed. Fans of the work of writer-producers Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore are used to this kind of show: the Monmouth County natives have penned nearly two dozen farces to date. British playwright Ray Cooney, too, has practically made a career out of the genre.
The New Jersey Rep production, however, is all a spoof, from the acting to the flimsy set (by Carrie Mossman) to the tacky costumes (by Patricia E. Doherty). Most of the characters are written and performed as outlandish stereotypes, like the Swedish cameraman spouting odes to Ingmar Bergman and the oversexed senator's red, white, and blue underwear and Southern accent. Through it all, Benjamin and Adamson hardly break a sweat -- especially Benjamin, whose parents, Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin, attended the opening-night performance. She shows a lot of potential and will be worth watching.
Tour de Farce runs Jan. 28-Feb. 26 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, N.J. Tickets: (732) 229-3166. Website: www.njrep.org.