The Decorator, by Donald Churchill. Directed by Phil Rice. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Kathleen Carey, Mark "Monk" Schane-Lydon, Colleen Lovett; photo: Abe Phelps
Mark "Monk" Schane-Lydon, Kathleen Carey; photo: Abe Phelps
Funny: Colleen Lovett; Funnier: Kathleen Carey; Funniest: Mark "Monk" Schane-Lydon. In this silly British bedroom farce (take that literally), three actors play out a very trifling story in a very serious fashion exhibiting a perfect lack of common sense or sound judgement. A married woman who has been having an affair with a married man is caught by the man's wife who intends on telling the woman's husband about the indiscretion. The woman hires her house painter to stand in for her husband in order to keep the secret from the real husband. What happens next is enough mania to have them all committed beyond their commitments to the truth. There are a lot of credits given in the program, but none for dialect coach, and whoever worked with this cast to finesse the characters' voices is at least partially responsible for the hilarious hit show now on the stage at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon.
The decorator, or house painter, you see, is an out-of-work actor with a mastery of both Noel Coward and William Shakespeare and a tendency to mix them together. The cheating wife has a nervous itch and the betrayed woman is a master-plotter whose best laid plans go awry. Put them together in a room and chaos prevails. Director Phil Rice has done a masterful job of maneuvering this trio around a living room and a bedroom (off-stage but remarkable) and bringing out some of the finest physical comedy I've ever seen at this theater for its 2018 season closer.
Kathleen Carey takes on the role of Marcia Hornbeam, the cheating wife, and delights from start to finish as her prudishness comes to the fore at the start of things and interferes throughout the play with Marcia's neediness and intentions. As played by Carey Marcia is a mass of internal conflicts, wanting to save her reputation and her marriage, working to confuse an already confused rival with rhetoric and action, suffering from a physical reaction to the difficulties she faces. The actress uses her body brilliantly to indicate Marcia's difficulties with the truth. She twists, contorts, grimaces and grins maniacally. The actress turns acrobat at times, and she flaunts her character's ability to prevaricate with a seeming ease which is actually a personal torture. Carey has never been funnier than she is in this play and never, at the same time, as overwhelmingly honest and real.
Mark "Monk" Schane-Lydon, Colleen Lovett; photo: Abe Phelps
This is in direct conflict with Colleen Lovett whose straightforward seriousness slowly breaks down into farcical sex kitten in the last scene of the play. Her transition is a delicious one, prudish mendacity transforming into malicious priorities. When Jane Erskine makes up her mind to ruin her rival for her husband Brian's affections, she is direct and almost angular in her take on Marcia's home, her life, her errors of judgement. However, when she decides to make a play for the man she believes is Reggie Hornbeam, she loses her physical rigidity to become a Lilith, snakelike and supple and seductive. Lovett makes this set of moves sinuously humorous, the prudish aspects of Jane becoming purposeful and powerful and the opposite of puritanical. Lovett is funny as the serious and deadly threat to Marcia's security. She is just as amusing as the temptress. Both sides of Jane are delightfully in contrast with the anguished Marcia whose desperation drives this play.
Still, with all this feminine frivolity on stage, the funniest performance comes from Mark "Monk" Schane-Lydon as Walter Page. If ever an actor was born for a role, this would be my first choice as the perfect example of such a possibility. His range here is truly from the strangeness of a keystone comedy, physical, over-gestured, hyper-reactive to the finest of subtle comic performance, literally from Mack Sennett's "Fatty" Arbuckle to Dan Akroyd. He plays broad physical comedy, slap-dash eye-popping comedy, sophisticated wordplay comedy all in the space of a less than two hour play. Having seen him play Walter I cannot imagine anyone else playing the role.
Donald Churchill has squeezed so much into this short evening that I would swear we had been treated to three hours of non-stop laughter though it ran, with an intermission, only one hour and fifty-one minutes. Much of this is due to the sharp direction of Phil Rice who pulled every stop out and let the actors take the run of their lives down the steep slopes of an amusement park ride. Anthony Martin's set was excellent constantly reminding us of the work still to be completed by The Decorator himself. David Andrew Louder's perfect costumes defined all four characters in this play (as performed by the three actors on stage). Ashley Yung provided perfect lighting for this comedy. And once again, whoever coached the accents - and there were many - helped give this play its delicate reality.
This marks the finest season-ender this company has provided in years. Their autumn show at the Theater Barn is always worth waiting for and this one delivers beautifully before the leaves turn to flame and the summer season drifts into memory.
The Decorator plays at the Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, NY through September 23. For information and tickets go to www.theaterbarn.com or call the box office at 518-794-8989.