Theater Review: Timber Lake opens ‘Red Herring’ comedy
By Bill Beard
The current production at Timber Lake Playhouse’s charming and consistently impressive little theater in the deep woods of Mt. Carroll is Michael Hollinger’s 2001 film noir style comedy, Red Herring, playing through this weekend, July 23.
Guest Director Derek Bertelsen returns after last season’s Love, Sex and the IRS, and has used some of the best of Artistic Director James Beaudry’s talented actors in what is a complex and difficult stylized script. Thankfully, the cast is uniformly adept.
In the lead, Andrew Harth once again proves his brilliant comedic capability. His stature and voice may slightly limit the range of characters he can do, but he is absolutely on target here. [Prediction: If he has not already done the show, someone should cast him in the role he was born to do: J. Pierpont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying!]. Julia Mitchell is his perfect partner as the ditzy darling Lynn, daughter of the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy; Brandon Ford and Kelsey Andres continue to reveal their marvelous versatility as the Russian spy Borchevsky and his “wife,” Mrs. Kravitz; they are aided and abetted by Katie Wesler and Dryden Meints as the detective Maggie Pelletier and FBI agent Frank Keller.
Red Herring is actually a spoof on the great old film-noir spy movies of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The principal characters are three pairs of lovers, whose lives
intertwine via their involvement in a Cold War espionage caper. But the story immediately becomes confusing and puzzling, primarily because the information the program gives the audience consists of just the time and location and the names of the six primary characters, not even the minimal descriptions I’ve given above. We, the audience, deserve a tad more information; at least that the actors play multiple roles and that the characters use multiple disguises.
It’s a bit of a shame, because Red Herring is a funny show, and Timber Lake has assembled a lot of talent to put it on. Hollinger has written his play as a series of at first seemingly unrelated mini-scenes, ready-made, almost, as if for television. But here, it takes too long for the gradual accumulation of these five-minute bits, each one more preposterous than the last, to give Red Herring its outrageous and uproarious energy.
Then, when a stage crew can be seen in semi-darkness moving out between each scene and resetting all the furniture and walls, and actors are seen sneaking out to become dead bodies and whatnot, the story never gains momentum, and the laughter never finds its chance to build. For example, the ocean pier could just as easily have been represented with a couple of dock pilings and some rope (and maybe a seagull sound effect), instead of that huge, multi-leveled rolling platform.
To further complicate things, there were incessant little “non-scenes” (at the doors on each side of the stage), which were perhaps supposed to “cover” those
scene changes, but only served to further interrupt the action and add to the confusion; and in several places, little added pieces of “business” became obvious gimmickry; e.g., the series of ridiculous hats every time the bartender popped up from behind the bar. Mr. Harth was funny enough without contrived gimmickry.
I don’t know the script, but I’d wager that a quicker, lighter bouncing through this accumulation of scenes, and in simpler, more Spartan scenery, would have worked much better.
TLP is definitely to be commended for its choice of “never-before-done-at-Timber-Lake-Playhouse” shows for its 50th anniversary season theme; and Red Herring represents a genre that fits neatly into the series (a sort of Convoluted Film Noir Farce).
Basically, it’s a very funny script; and these six actors make the show well worth the trip. It plays through this Saturday, July 23.
For information, call (815) 244-2035 or to www.timberlakeplayhouse.org.
From the July 20-26, 2011 issue
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