I once watched Heath Lamberts star in the Shaw Festival's One For The Pot, an hilarious British farce that forces quick costume changes, exits and entrances such that a backstage ramp was built solely for him.
Farce engenders exaggerated, improbable situations with physical humor, nonsense, and overly-dramatic performances. In today's world, it's a hard sell as everyone must buy into it, particularly the lead character. Lamberts had us in the palm of his hand.
Fast forward to Cambridge's beautiful Dunfield Theatre and Drayton Entertainment's version, which takes time to gather steam, but soon, Eddie Glen as Hickory Wood was as mesmerizing as Lamberts playing four characters and navigating an array of doors and a chest, featured in an attractive set by Allan Wilbee.
Drayton Entertainment has moved into the big leagues, and in its multiple theatres - King's Wharf in Penetanguishene, Huron County Playhouse near Grand Bend, Drayton Festival Theatre, St. Jacob's Schoolhouse and Country Playhouse and Dunfield, the seats are regularly filled with repeat customers. Indeed, in the summer, Drayton successfully competes with Stratford, Shaw and various Toronto theatres. At the Huron County Playhouse, I watched both Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Million Dollar Quartet, each an excellent production.
Glen and his supporting cast - Tim Funnell as Charlie Barnet, Hickory Wood's avaricious mentor, Kyle Golemba as self-absorbed aristocratic Clifton-Weaver, Sarah Higgins as Cynthia Hardcastle, the love interest, Doulas Hughes as Arnold Piper the stuttering lawyer, Jason Huska as The Guest, Amanda Leigh as Wood's long-suffering wife, Winnie, David Leyshon as Jugg, the alcoholic and lazy butler, Andrea Risk as wife, Amy Hardcastle and Brian Tree as Jonathan Hardcastle, the wealthy, wheelchair-bound benefactor - are all wonderful in their roles.
Corny jokes and double-entendres almost deserve a musical drum-roll accompaniment. "Don't let that bag out of your sight!" Tree shouts at Hughes, who mistakes his briefcase full of money for an old woman. Ba-bum! "I didn't come here to be insulted!" solicits the response, "Where do you usually go?" Ba-bum!
Jonathan Hardcastle sets the action in motion, bequeathing £10,000 to the son (Hickory Wood) of a former colleague provided that he is the only son. Notices are published in newspapers; two brothers arrive; and the game is afoot with Eddie Glen playing both Billy Hickory Wood, a simpleton and the sophisticated brother Rupert, who falls in love with Cynthia, Hardcastle's daughter only to be drugged, banged on the head and shoved into a convenient closet.
Later, Glen adds an Irish, roguish sibling sporting a thick brogue. And well after Glen has us in the palm of his hand, a French sibling appears to end the show with the audience gleefully laughing throughout.
This was a first-class production of a classic British farce involving mistaken identities and unrequited romances at breakneck speed, one of several that I have enjoyed at Dunfield. It
was written by Ray Cooney and Tony Hilton, their first collaboration in 1959 in London and it successfully ran there for four and a half years.
Glen was in Drayton's production of The 39 Steps at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse. His other Drayton Entertainment credits include It Runs in the Family, The Pirates of Penzance,
Spamalot, Les Misérables and Man of La Mancha.
Most Drayton theatres close in September, but Dunfield is producing Rock of Ages Oct. 11 - Nov. 5 and Beauty and the Beast Nov. 22 - Dec. 24. St. Jacobs Country Playhouse offers
Death of a Salesman Oct. 11 - Oct. 29 and Hunk Nov. 29 - Dec. 24. St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre runs Kings & Queens of Country Sept. 19 - Dec. 24.
If you have not yet experienced a Drayton production, I recommend that you give it a try.