My first and only public performance was as Mrs. Cratchit in "A Christmas Carol" many moons ago. I didn't even have a first name-- I was just "Mrs. Cratchit."
I had a great time and probably would have done more community theater, but I was 12 at the time, and middle school, puberty and a massive case of social ineptitude landed on me the next year like a California mud slide. (The wet, muddy kind, not the Kahlua kind. That kind caught up with me in college.)
There was no recovery, especially from the social ineptitude.
A lot of good things came out of that brief hour I got to strut and fret upon the stage, the greatest being that 12 year later, Mrs. Cratchit up and married Young Scrooge from the same play and they've been busy producing the next generation of artists, actors and such (Buzz being the "such") ever since.
Another good thing that came out of it was a deep and abiding love for live theater, especially community theater. Just because I'm too self-conscious to be on the stage doesn't mean I don't enjoy being behind the scenes or in the audience. There is such magic in watching the story unfold in front of you, and for me, that magic is only enhanced when the people "telling" the story are people I know.
Monday night, I had the privilege of being one of the few people in the audience for the dress rehearsal of "Cash on Delivery," the play opening this weekend at The Fly. Attending a "critics night" can be awkward for the players as well as the critics for the same reason sitcoms use laugh tracks. We like sharing our experience with others and we often take clues from those same others.
I can't count the number of times Buzz, while watching a show with us, will laugh loud and long with us at a funny line, then a few seconds later say, "I don't get it." Each of our children has a motto. Scott's is "Hurr Ima Durr," (long story, requires its own column) Ben's is "because I am awesome, " and Buzz's is "I don't get it."
But laughing out loud, when you are almost the only one in the theater, is a lot harder than laughing with a bunch of other laughers. You get self-conscious and inhibited.
Unless the play being done is "Cash on Delivery," and the cast is as good as this one. Before 10 minutes had lapsed, I'd progressed from smiles to chuckles, and by the end of the play, I had laughed out loud -- and alone -- so hard and so often I had tear tracks on my face and a stitch in my side. As funny as "Dearly Departed" was, "Cash on Delivery" is even funnier.
The basic premise is a man who has been scamming social security payments is having regrets and wants to stop. The only thing is, the harder he tries to slip away from the set up, the more money the government sends him. When investigators show up in the form of Jenkins (played delightfully droll and Eton-accented by Ryan Clanton), identities, lies and even genders get mistaken, misappropriated and misunderstood. Mayhem ensues.
Of course, I've got other reasons to plug this one. Like "Come Blow Your Horn" last year, two of my coworkers, John Carney and Martin Jones, are in it, with John taking the lead role. Knowing John as well as I do just made the play even funnier, and I'd love to give examples, but I won't -- even a hint would spoil one of the funniest moments I have ever experienced in live theater.
Let's just say John's character, Eric, is capable of doing things that would leave John himself blushing. Poor Martin gets no respect, but he does get laughs, so maybe his role wasn't as much of a stretch ... (Just kidding Martin. I respect you -- and your ability to get laughs.)
But these guys, as good as they are, are only two members of an overall amazing cast. David Butner must have interned with Monty Python and Benny Hill at some point in his life, because he pulls off slapstick, mime and cross-dressing with flair. Funny, funny flair. Wes Campbell, who also directs, is hilarious, and has a unique knack for being in the wrong place at the right time, which is essential in a farce.
Probably one of the hardest roles in a comedy, especially this kind of fast-paced British farce, is the "straight man," the only normal person, the one who doesn't understand what's going on. In this case, that would be Linda, Eric's wife, played by Jennifer Templeton. Instead of falling back on the easy route of just reacting (and usually overacting), Jennifer plunges her character into the fray and slaps off some pretty funny moments herself.
All of the players, including Diane Clanton, Joe Rada, Sharon Kay Edwards and Ashley Brinkley, contribute to the comedy, each role adding another level of hilarity.
I don't do "Thumbs Up" or "Stars" or buckets of popcorn, but if I had to give a rating to "Cash on Delivery," I'd say, in the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap "The numbers all go to 11. Look, right across the board, 11, 11, 11 and..."