THEATER REVIEW: Try as they might, the farce isn’t with them

“The Decorator” / Theater Barn

AUDIENCES ENTERING THE THEATER BARN to see “The Decorator” are met with a deliberately ugly stage. There is a room with lavender-pinkish walls that were probably fine until the designer (on purpose!) put dirtyish earth-green drapes on the window and filled center stage with an antagonistic bluish-green sofa and matching chair. Some may hope that the title’s “decorator” will ply his trade before the end of the evening.

The decorator (played by Mark “Monk” Schane-Lydon) enters and prepares to paint walls. He seems a bit goofy. Perhaps he is going to be a character of questionable intelligence. Then he tunes his radio to a Mozart horn concerto and listens happily, so one can’t be sure.

When a nice-looking, possibly upper-class woman appears, first in a towel and then in a dowdy plaid skirt, with blouse hanging from under an appalling black-speckled jacket, hope for design and color-candy on the stage is squashed.

What does it mean?

(Okay. So the plot indicates that the woman needs a decorator. Did set designer Anthony Martin and costumer David Louder read the script and decide to tantrum?)

Next, arrives the beautiful (oh good!), phony, fast-talking Jane, played by Colleen Lovett. Let’s confess. We audiencers go to the theater not only for art, laughter and life-instructions, but also for the pleasure of looking at unusually beautiful people. Lovett delivers beautiful–if not believable.

The play is a three-character British farce. The nice-looking woman, Marcia, is played with super-skill and rare farce-understanding by Kathleen Carey. Carey is all character and no actor’s ego. She is a farce-director’s dream. She is probably any director’s dream.

Marcia is elaborately attempting to avoid the consequences of her long-term affair with Jane’s husband. The decorator at work in her abode is a would-be actor who agrees to collude with Marcia by “acting” as her aggrieved husband. Should be hilarious, right?

In contrast to Carey and Lovett, the born-funny Schane-Lydon as the decorator operates in another mode: He is sit-com funny, stand-up funny, Jackie Gleason funny. He knows how to do American hilarious. British farce is another kind of funny, but he almost makes it work.

The job of dragging disparate acting approaches into the same dramatic room falls to director Phil Rice, who may have found the play too little and the task too much. (Of course, Rice continues to exhibit his superb, eclectic taste in music with yummy choices for the evening’s before-, after-, and in-between spots.)

As written, the characters in this play have not much socially redeeming value. Even when they exit to the next room for sex, it is difficult to get titillated or to care. The adultery is mundane, and who wants to keep noticing that adultery is actually so much more complicated and interesting a topic?

There must be a core of believability and unity in the nuttiness of a farce, and director Rice has not quite stirred it together. Maybe there was not much in playwright Donald Churchill’s script to stir.

The result seems more like attractive actors jammed into the lives of unattractive characters—all trapped in a silly plot.

Perhaps the temptation to mount a three-character, inexpensive-to-produce play can be overwhelming, even after three especially well-selected, nicely produced Theater Barn musicals. And perhaps the experience will whet producer appetites for a little Arthur Miller, or Sarah Ruhl, or George Bernard Shaw.

“The Decorator” runs through Sunday, September 23. To see what you think, call 518-794-8989 for tickets.

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