British playwright and actor Ray Cooney is probably best known to Americans for authoring the classic 1983 farce, RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, which starred Bernard Cribbins. But he's also responsible for another West End hit from 1994, FUNNY MONEY, in which he starred. Audiences here are better acquainted with it as a 2007 movie starring Chevy Chase, but it's still a fine theatrical piece. It's also currently on stage at Oyster Mill Playhouse, directed by Oyster Mill regular Lois Heagy and starring local theatre veteran Nicholas Hughes in his first Oyster Mill production.
Nick Hughes is a perfectly convincing ball of nerves and near-insanity as Henry Perkins, the everyman accountant whose near-empty briefcase (save for some papers, a scarf and such, and half of a sandwich) is accidentally exchanged with another one containing one million pounds. Concluding quickly, and perhaps slightly drunkenly, that the money was the proceeds of an illegal transaction, he devises a simple plan: take the money and run, well before the people whose money it may be can find him. Although Heagy, the director, is anticipating complaints about Hughes' accent possibly not sounding authentic, he comes by it honestly as an English transplant.
Jean, his wife, played by Aliza Bardfield, is not so convinced of the wisdom of the plan, wanting to have a peaceful birthday dinner for Henry that night, remaining at home, and watching the cat - and most definitely not running off to Barcelona. Jean, who normally does not drink, takes to the bottle in the midst of chaos, and Bardfield is a spirited, feisty drunk throughout much of the performance. Although her accent slips a bit during her alcoholic slurring, her physical comedy during her increasing inebriation is a pleasure to watch.
The best friend couple, Vic and Betty Johnson, is played by Oyster Mill veterans Jack Eilber and Marte Engle. Engle has a specialty of comic relief characters, and that specialty comes out here, as Betty seizes on the wisdom of Henry's plan when no one else does, and makes some decisions to assist him that Vic and Jean can barely handle. Eilber's Vic wants to be the voice of reason in the midst of the million-pound turmoil - a voice quickly and loudly drowned out by circumstances.
A farce involving crime is nothing without police in the midst of it, and therefore Amy Nolan Jordan plays Fulham CID officer Davenport, and Andy Isaacs CID sergeant Slater. Davenport is as crooked as Slater is upright, and is far more alert to what's happening around her, and though Jordan's performance is a touch more relaxed than it might be for a detective standing to earn substantial money from her corruption, she's quick to exploit the possibilities that Henry's planned dash for Spain could mean for her. Isaacs' Slater is stolid, determined, and somehow completely unaware of the frequent switches of briefcase that take place nearly every time he enters the Perkins residence. Only a detective of his dogged persistence and deep perspicacity could walk off the scene, after all disclosures are made, with the assurance that the denizens of the residence are still model citizens. Less frenetic than the officers in many other plays, particularly the more recent UNNECESSARY FARCE, these London police, especially Slater, reassure us that there are still stage police performing thorough investigations and getting to the bottom of on-stage crime.
Anthony Geraci, last seen at Oyster Mill in LUCKY STIFF, plays Ben - no, Bill - the cabbie, the most put-upon man in London. His exasperation is palpable, especially considering that between the Perkins in-laws who aren't heading to the airport and having his auto hit by a police car, he's going nowhere rapidly. Stephen M. Jahn makes a brief appearance as "Mr. Big," the murderous criminal in search of Henry's newfound fortune who wants his briefcase of cash back.
There are a few small issues of pacing in this production, and this reviewer is not fond of the moment of the break between acts in the show, but the show is certainly entertaining and should keep the diehard Anglophile audience members more than content.
FUNNY MONEY is the sort of show that adapts well to Oyster Mill's stage, and sits well with a post-holiday audience in need of a laugh. It's on the Oyster Mill stage through February 10. Tickets are available at 717-737-6768 or through www.oystermill.com.
Photo Credit: Oyster Mill Playhouse