If you're going to like any farce, this is it. That's because Michael Frayn, who also wrote Copenhagen, one of the most intellectually stimulating dramas of the last decade, used the same type of exactitude for this wacky two-and-a-half-hour romp. Under the direction of Richard Seyd, the nine performers move in perfectly synchronized chaos. And they all have a good handle on what makes each character funny. Except for the so-so climax, which even the best cast can never quite fix, this is the rare play that offers more comedy than we can soak up in one viewing.
That's because so much is going on onstage. The first of three acts finds a second-rate acting company laboring through a tech-dress rehearsal of a poorly written farce, Nothing On, less than a day before opening a tour. The production is bankrolled by Dotty (Lori Larsen), an aging star who can't recall her lines. Her genial co-stars include the inarticulate Garry (Bradford Farwell), sad sack Freddie (Michael Patten), ditsy Brooke (Bhama Roget), gossip monger Belinda (Maureen McVerry), and Selsdon (Ed Sarafian), who is a drunk and almost totally deaf. Lloyd (Mark Chamberlin), the play-within-a-play's director, is in agony trying to guide the misfit cast through its paces, and most of his anger is directed toward stage manager Poppy (Ali Taylor) or at the lone stagehand, Tim (Mark Anders). In the second act, the purposely rickety, two-story, seven-door set (John Iacovelli) is turned around, so we can see the production from backstage. The tour has been limping along, but personal relationships that are made painful by miscommunications lead to a healthy dose of mimed insanity. The third act finds the tour nearing its end. The set is turned face-front again, so we can witness the show's complete implosion.
While there aren't any weak performances here, Roget, as Brooke, stands out. She completely sells Brooke as someone who has memorized her lines and movements and can't stray from them. Like a robot, her gestures and vocal inflections never vary when she's onstage, and when Brooke is behind the scenes, she's barely able to speak and walk at the same time. Chamberlin also grabs a lot of the biggest laughs as Lloyd, the exasperated director. His oozing sarcasm and fits of rage are hilarious. And special kudos should be given to Farwell, who as Garry nails an improbable staircase pratfall — a back flip down the first half and a headfirst slide down the remaining stairs.
Seyd's directorial skills excel in the second act, when three or four comic bits are happening simultaneously. The pace remains high and each segment goes off without a hitch. The final act loses steam partway through, but that remains mostly the lone fault of Frayn's script, and it's hardly enough of a blemish to diminish the enjoyable experience.
Presented by Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. Tue.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (Also Sat. 2 p.m. Sep. 23 & 30, Sun. 7 p.m. Sep. 24 & Oct. 1.) Sep. 16-Oct. 1. (310) 372-4477. www.civiclightopera.com.