Be Prepared To Giggle

The dictionary definition of a face is "when the plot depends on a skillful exploitation of a situation rather than the development of character."  It is also "a foolish show, a mockery, a ridiculous sham."

Take your pick or have them both.  "Run For Your Wife," the current offering at the Westport Country Playhouse through Saturday, does.

Although the opening night audience lapped it up like frozen custard, this British import demands that you be in the mood to giggle.  If you're not, it won't make you. 

If you are, this preposterous contrivance has a hoot a minute based on sight gags, double entendres, mistaken identities and the usual facial abundance of untimely entrances and exits.  Hardly original in concept, it is not another "Noises Off," but it does move fast and if you get the giggles, it will grow on you.

The premise is simple: John Smith, a taxi driver, has two wives, married three months apart because he "can't say no" and living four miles away from each other so that he can do his domestic shuttle in no time flat.

Shades of "Captain's Paradise" and "Mickey and Maude?"  Yes, same basic idea, but more outlandish and not nearly as clever.

The whistle blows on John's finely-tuned arrangement when he is thrown off schedule by an unforeseen incident in which he comes to the rescue of an old lady who is being mugged.  Giving one address to the police and another to the hospital, he is suddenly standing in very hot water.

The trick is to keep each wife from finding out about the other in the face of police sergeants who are investigating his case, a newspaper putting his picture on the front page, a well-meaning friend who bumbles into both his lives and two wives each demanding more sexual energy than any one man has.

This leads to his friend having to pose as another John Smith, and/or a hog farmer, one wife mistaken for a transvestite, the other for a nun, he and his friend having to be taken for gay lovers, etc. ad infinitum.

The best gag in whole thing is the moment at the end of the first act when David McCallum as John Smith, has to eat the newspaper that has his picture posed with his first wife so that his second wife doesn't see it.  Solemnly and matter-of-factly, he tears off strip by strip and stuffs them into his mouth as if they were strings of spaghetti.  How he manages it without gagging or laughing is a tribute to his acting ability and to how far an actor will go for a role.

McCallum plays John Smith impishly and makes him the sort of amoral character, you not only forgive but begin to root for.  His boyish quality contributes to the sense of an innocent caught up in circumstances which can only lead him further and further astray.

McCallum is well-supported in this nonsense by Stephen Temperley, as Smith's best friend Stanley, whose loyalty is tested to the utmost in a situation way out of hand.  He is particularly effective in his acrobatic sight gags, leaping over the sofa and such.

Also fine are I.M. Hobson, that Toby Mug of a man, as one police sergeant and Tom Flagg as the other, Elaine Rinehart is bouncy and seductive as the second wife,  Barbara, but Sybil Lines is almost too broad in her hysterical characterization  of the first wife, Mary.

Toby Tanner, who directed this to move like a video game, does a terrific turn as a flamingly gay upstairs neighbor who minces through from time to time.

If you're not allergic to slapstick, this British trifle just might be your cup of tea.

It took the British to turn a hohum season into a big ha ha this week at the Westport Country Playhouse.

David McCallum and company, especially Stephen Temperly, provide nonstop laughter in "Run For Your Wife," an import from London's West End.  There happen to be two wives, each very different and each well portrayed by Sybil Lines and Elaine Rinehart.

McCallum (with the ordinary name of John Smith) is just an "ordinary" London cabbie who likes sex in the morning and in the afternoon in two varieties with two wives in two flats across town from each other.

Things work well until McCallum becomes a front-page hero and Temperley, an unemployed neighbor played by Stanley Gardner, steps in to juggle the two women, the two doubting detectives, and some very funny lines.  He teases the imagination.

When Temperley learns of McCallum's double life, he is incredulous.  "Two wives.  Two homes.  But I thought you were just ordinary: You flit back and forth with sex like a bumblebee."

Explains McCallum, "I keep a tight schedule," with schedule pronounced the British way.

McCallum is a fast field on the lines, too.  When the day is schedule to be CDWB (Cuddly Day with Barbara), he quickly switches it to CDWBWB (Can't Do What's Booked with Barbara").

Added spice to the fine cast are the two detectives, Tom Flagg in Wimbledon and I.M. Hobson in Streatham.

The set works, giving the illusion of the two flats with the two women, Mary Smith in Wimbledon and Barbara Smith in Streatham, on the phone simultaneously reporting their missing husband to the police.  ("How does he look, mam?" "Ah, just ordinary.")

Thought the farce moves quickly, the second act could use tightening, with the Streatham gay upstairs really unnecessary.  The point is made without the obvious.  The wait seems a bit overlong for the final funny twist.

But, as the British would say, this week at the playhouse makes for smashing summer entertainment.