“Farce” once meant a comic interlude in a mystery play. Now, a farce is a stand-alone play or film depending on humorous situations rather than character development, generally with a lot of mistaken identity, fast entrances and exits, and slapstick humor.
It sounds light and simple, but this type of production requires precise timing and staging for the gags to work, and director Joseph Beck pulls it off magnificently in Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre’s current offering, It Runs in the Family.
Written by Ray Cooney, it takes place in a London hospital — to us Americans, the British-ness of it all makes it that much funnier — three days before Christmas.
Sean O’Shea is the harried Dr. Mortimore, attempting to prepare for an important speech but interrupted constantly. O’Shea is tall and lanky, and his performance seems a tribute to John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty, who he at times channels flawlessly. His full embrace of the character as the action becomes more and more frantic provides a strong center for the rest of the cast.
As the teenage Leslie questioning his parentage, Tyler Gilbert shows maturity and mastering of nuance, particularly in his transformation from sullen to joyful when he thinks he’s found what he was looking for.
David Couch (who produces Circle Bar B’s shows with wife Susie Couch) is brilliant as the befuddled Dr. Bonney. His razor-sharp comic timing and facial expressions attest to his many years of experience in comic theater, with certainly no lack of natural talent.
Christopher Lee Short as Dr. Connolly sets the bar for humor high in early scenes as he prepares for the annual Christmas pantomime, attempting to rally his colleagues’ participation to no avail. He has an admirable ability to throw himself unselfconsciously into this impassioned character, trying on one ridiculous costume after another in the midst of the growing madness around him. This is a far cry from Short’s last appearance, alongside Joseph Beck in Out of the Box Theatre’s production of Assassins, and he proves himself to be an actor of great range.
Jean Hall and Deborah Bertling head up the feminine population of the play, at either end of the silliness spectrum. Bertling plays a straight woman to the rest of the cast, as Jane Tate, a nurse who returns to the hospital after many years with a secret to reveal. Hall takes the prize for most delightfully over-the-top performance as the hospital matron. With a talent for physical humor as well as a grasp of the more subtle elements of comedy, she takes the production to heights of camp.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any sillier, Jerry Vassallo appears. With his rubber face and quirky delivery, he steals the second act as an elderly patient who is suddenly thrust into the midst of the shenanigans.
With the bonus of Circle Bar B’s idyllic setting and delicious barbecued tri-tip dinner included with each ticket (the garlic mashed potatoes alone are worth the price of admission), this show is the best entertainment value for miles around. If last weekend’s audience is any indication, keeping a straight face is not on the menu.
Tickets for It Runs In the Family are available for shows Aug. 26-27 and Sept. 2-3. Click here for tickets and information.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.