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In good farce, there shouldn't be time to breathe. Farce moves. Its momentum picks up speed. When you're watching well-done farce, you should be laughing so hard at the sheer pace of the comedy you get mad at yourself for missing some of the dialogue.
At Stage West they're doing Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw, a smart, dark farce that makes fun of the sort of idiotic wink-wink, nudge-nudge comedies Londoners laughed at in the 1960s. It was a scandal in 1969 to make jokes about Winston Churchill's willy, but this play does, along with gags about the British health system and the mental health of doctors and politicians.
There is no butler in What the Butler Saw. There are two doctors (played by Jerry Russell and Patrick Bynane), a doctor's randy wife (Dana Schultes), a policeman (Dwight Greene) who loses his clothes, a secretary (Katherine Bourne) who loses her clothes and a bellboy (Garret Storms) who wears women's clothes. Pretty silly stuff, but if done well, it builds to a crescendo of big laughs.
Stage West's cast does not do it well -- or at least they didn't on opening night. Lines were dropped. Cues were slow. You could get a three-Mississippi counted after one actor exited and the next entered. Laughs were few and far between
But now, in its second full week of performances, perhaps they've tightened it up. Perhaps Schultes has stopped yelling her lines. Maybe Russell has finally memorized all of his.
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There's great comic potential in this production, directed by Jim Covault. Bourne, a recent SMU theater grad, is a spritely little actress with a touch of the young Goldie Hawn in her as she hops around the set in her panties and bra. Storms, so good as the lead in last year's Stage West production of New Jerusalem, is a stitch as the bawdy bellboy. In drag, he's even funnier.
Summer's a good time to stage airy comedies like this. And if it gets up to speed, What the Butler Saw could really buzz.
What the Butler Saw continues through August 5 at Stage West, Fort Worth. Call 817-784-9378.