Encore to stage funniest play ever


Encore Theatre Company is starting the New Year and their 2009 season off with a bang!

The company is currently in rehearsals for Ray Cooney’s adult comedy, “Run for Your Wife,” which has been called “the funniest play ever written” by London’s Daily Telegraph while the New York Post’s critic said it is “virtually continuous laughter.”

“It is incredibly funny” said Joel Meriwether, who is directing this production for the four-year-old troupe. Meriwether, who has previously directed “Love Letters,” “Baby with the Bathwater,” “The Fifteen Minute Hamlet” as well as the inaugural production of “The Murder Room,” all for Encore Theatre Company, enjoys a good farce.

“There is nothing more exhilarating than helming the birth of a show, especially, if it is one of those ‘dream’ shows you have always wanted to do,” said Meriwether, who directed his first production at the now defunct Chapel Playhouse at Pickett Chapel in Lebanon in 1986. “I’ve been directing for 23 years now, and my directing debut was the Joseph Kesselring comedy, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” for Chapel Playhouse. I have since found that I have a knack for directing comedy, and this show is the funniest one I have ever read.”

Meriwether said that when he tells other directors that “Run for Your Wife” is one of his dream directing jobs, they often look at him with one eyebrow askew.

“Oh, usually it’s Hamlet or Lear, or something by George Bernard Shaw, or something very erudite or scholarly. However, for me, comedy is the challenge. Sir Donald Wolfit, a British actor and director has been attributed for saying ‘dying is easy, comedy is hard’ on his deathbed. He’s been quoted often because he captured comedy’s essential paradox. And, he was right. Why is laughter, a behavior so basic and essential to human life, so hard to evoke? Most of us love to laugh, but who can explain what laughter is, why we do it? Or what makes something funny. Funny is in the eye of the beholder. Just pick up any book on literary criticism. Critics are always more comfortable with high-minded theories of tragedy than with trying to explain comedy. It’s tragedy whose existence is easy to explain and laughter that seems mysterious.”

In “Run for Your Wife,” a comedy about bigamy, a dull man turns out to have a hyperactive romantic life. The highly improbable plot focuses on London taxi driver, John Smith, who has two wives: Mary and Barbara and maintains two separate households, one in Wimbledon, the other a few minutes away in Streatham. Determined to keep his lie intact, he rooms with Mary in the mornings and resides with Barbara in the evenings.

Unfortunately, John's meticulous plan is disrupted when he intervenes in a mugging and gets bonked on the head. After being treated in a hospital, he is dropped off at Mary's place at a time when he should have been home with Barbara. John desperately struggles to hold his scheme together while avoiding arrest by the police and suspicion from his wives.

Adding to the mix of the already exaggerated characters is the unemployed and lazy neighbor, Stanley, a pair of nosy detectives, and a highly effeminate upstairs neighbor, Bobbie who drops in to borrow milk and gets caught up in the whirlwind goings-on.

With increasing ineptitude, the taxi driver tries to keep one wife from learning about the other and this quickly leads to a snowball effect of mistaken identities, lies, confusion, cross-dressing and any number of misleading contrivances.

“The audience will simply be exhausted from laughing by the end of the show.   And, in these economic times, laughter absolutely is the best medicine,” said Meriwether, who began his love affair with this show when he saw it in London’s West End with the Redgrave sisters, Lynn and Vanessa, playing the two wives, Mary and Barbara.

“The British do comedy exceptionally well, so well, in fact that this style of farce is named for their efforts,” Meriwether said. “And, this show will be no exception, involving a myriad of slamming doors and a frantic pace. You need a flow-chart just to keep up with who is whom and whose apartment they are in.”

The production’s requirements include a highly ingenious set design in which both John Smith’s apartments are featured. 

“The original set design, which was used for the London production and which we are using, adds another layer of complexity to this already convoluted script. The single-room set functions as both apartments at the same time, together and separately.  You may have Mary and Barbara standing side-by-side, but then you realize Mary is in Wimbledon, England and Barbara is in Streatham, England. When the entire cast is onstage, it can get hard to remember who is where,” Meriwether said, “because action takes place in both apartments simultaneously.”

“Run For Your Wife” opens Friday, Feb. 13, at the ETC venue, 14905A Lebanon Road (located behind Tractor Supply Company), and runs through Sunday, March 1.   Tickets are $15, except for Saturday, Feb. 14, which is a special Valentine’s Day Dinner Theatre catered by Flowers For His Glory, the same company which catered ETC’s Phantom Ball this past October, and tickets for that evening are $25. 

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings, with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.; the Valentine’s Day special dinner will be served at 6 p.m.  Reservations can be made by calling the theatre at (615) 598-8950. Patrons who pay in advance for any night can take advantage of the new VIP seating area at the theatre for all performances except for dinner theatre.