ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the 1960s, Joe Orton scandalized the British theatergoing public with his irreverent but very funny farces. Orton’s career was tragically cut short when he was 34 when his lover murdered him before committing suicide. The role of leading British farceur then passed to Orton’s contemporary Ray Cooney, a talented writer who is nonetheless not quite Orton’s equal, especially in his ability to shock a complacent middle-class audience.
The Adobe Theater is currently producing Cooney’s 1994 farce, “Funny Money,” directed by Andrea Haskett.
As the title suggests, the play is about money, and particularly our obsession with it. One day, Henry Perkins picks up the wrong briefcase by mistake and discovers that it is full of money. He stops at a pub to get a drink and count the money in the bathroom. His intention is to get his wife and their two passports and leave the country. Unfortunately, he is followed home from the pub by a policeman who suspects he was soliciting men in the pub (he repeatedly went back to the bathroom to recount the money and seemed unusually excited). Complication thickens as one lie leads to another and more and more people become embroiled in the outlandish plot.
This farce is very cleverly written and potentially quite hilarious, but unfortunately the director made a number of debilitating miscalculations.
Because this is a British farce, there are lots of references to London locations as well as the use of British colloquialisms, such “lavatory” for bathroom and “loo” for toilet; likewise, it is replete with expressions such as “don’t be daft” and “you’re bloody well right.”
Yet when Mrs. Perkins opens her mouth to speak, an American dialect is heard that is totally out of place. The play opens with a broadcast from the BBC in distinctly British dialect. And even before the play begins, there is a prerecorded audio message in British dialect telling us to turn off our cellphones. The American dialect was very disconcerting.
British plays of this sort have a very specific linguistic rhythm characteristic of modern-day England. While Jennifer Benoit, who played Mrs. Perkins, spoke in a clearly American dialect, the rest of the cast was all over the board, although most of them spoke with American dialects also. Ericka Zepeda and, especially, Neil Faulconbridge were exceptions. Benoit also had difficulty playing drunk, especially with regard to diction, which gets sloppy when one is plastered. This is very problematic, because her character gets increasingly drunk as the evening proceeds.
Farce is a difficult genre to pull off, and British farce doubly so. The cast did manage to get the pace of the show right, which is important in a play of this sort, and therefore the production was not without some amusing moments. Unfortunately, I missed one of the best bits entirely because the actor downstage center blocked the action upstage and didn’t move until the bit was over. Downstage actors need to find a clear spot to the side or not remain stationary too long.
“Funny Money” is playing through July 30 at Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth NW, Albuquerque. Go to adobetheater.org or call 898-9222 for reservations.