Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June 2006

The Theater Barn has launched their 23rd season with a rip-snorting farce, Caught in the Net, which has been directed with verve by Michael Marotta and performed at break-neck speed by an amiable cast, solidly anchored by the hilarious performance of John Philip Cromie as long-suffering lodger Stanley Gardner.

Caught in the Net by Ray Cooney (1932- ), a sequel to his highly successful Run for Your Wife which had a nine year run from 1983-1991 in London’s West End and has played all over the world ever since. This 2001 installment in the ludicrous life of bigamist London cabbie John Smith (Brian Allard) finds his teenaged offspring, a daughter Vicki (Petrina McCarron) by his wife Mary (Lisa Margolin) in Wimbledon and a son Gavin (Michael Frishman) by his wife Barbara (Joan Kubicek) in Streatham, meeting on the Internet and attempting to arrange a rendez-vous, one which will obviously end in incest, the revelation of John’s double life, or both. For no logical reason it falls to the hapless Stanley to provide all of John’s excuses, which rapidly mount to unfathomable heights (pun intended). Just for the heck of it, Stanley’s semi-senile father (John Noble) appears on the scene in the second act, under the impression he is on holiday at the seaside. This allows for the deployment of snorkels, swim masks, and entertaining bathing costumes.

Were this play not performed at the speed of light, you would have time to notice that there is virtually no character development and that the convoluted plot spirals completely out of the realm of believability early on in the first act. Even with the relentless energy expended, the second act is obviously superfluous. This is neither high drama nor great theatre, but it is jolly good fun. The point here is to make people laugh, and in that regard the play and this production are highly successful.

Were it not for Cromie’s unflagging energy, this soufflé would fall very flat indeed. Noble performs with his usual zest and that twinkle in his eye that I never can resist, and Allard does his best to get in the spirit of the play, although the fact that he is repeatedly required to play comatose or dead tends to deplete his energy. But McCarron, Frishman, Margolin, and Kubicek, given nothing much in the way of character to work with, bring the equivalent amount of talent and end up as convenient ciphers to be duped and occasionally groped by Cromie, Allard, and Noble.

There is nothing politically correct about this show, which particularly enjoys putting straight men in apparently compromising homosexual situations. Caught in the Net, like Run for Your Wife is very British and very Three’s Company which, no surprise, was based on a BritCom entitled Man About the House. You may have noticed that just sitting through a performance led me to use phrases like “jolly good” and “bathing costume” in this review, terms that even the British find quaint. The cast makes some attempt at British accents, and costume designer Whitney Locher has given McCarron a decent facsimile of a school uniform for her early appearances, but otherwise the Britishness of the piece is assumed to be self-evident.

I attended the opening night performance, which I am happy to say was presented before an enthusiastic full house. The audience is a very important ingredient in the success of a farce, since they must buy in to the lunacy and mirror the actors’ energy back across the footlights for the endeavor to succeed. A dead audience can ruin a farce before it gets out of the starting gate. Remember that when you go to see this or any other piece of silliness and come to the theatre prepared to do your bit.

Because of this necessary symbiosis, it is possible to gage the success of a farcical performance by the amount of energy remaining in the audience after the curtain goes down. Both at intermission and at the conclusion of the play, the comic energy in the air was palpable. My fellow audience members were noisy and elated, like a crowd disembarking from an exhilarating amusement park ride, of which this show is definitely the theatrical equivalent.

When you see a LOT of theatre as I do, it is very interesting to see what memories remain with you over the long haul. Exactly seven years ago I attended and reviewed Run for Your Wife, Marotta’s directorial debut at the Theater Barn. What remain with me from that production are a mental snapshot of the clever set by Jay Ennis, and the performance of the late and lovely Amelia Adams as Mary. Abe Phelps’ set for Caught in the Net is equally clever and attractive, but I keenly missed Adams gentle comedic presence. As is so often the case, you rarely truly appreciate what you have until you have lost it. I am pleased to see that both the Theater Barn and the Oldcastle Theatre Company have dedicated their 2006 seasons to Adams’ memory.

This fast and funny romp contains less offensive material than most G-rated films and family oriented TV shows. If you’re in the mood to laugh, pack up the family and go.

Caught in the Net runs through June 25 at the Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs two hours and ten minutes and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2006

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