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Fumbling characters drive comedic ‘Farce’

Ignite! production takes absurdity to new level

When one door closes in Paul Slade Smith’s “Unnecessary Farce,” another opens, and it’s usually in service of a comedic misunderstanding, a mistaken identity or a romantic liaison.

It’s a wacky, breathless, high-concept comedy of errors, premiering Friday at Ignite! Community Theatre, and the show’s director, Scott Finlayson, said its humor is even broader than you might expect.

“It’s probably the most absurd farce that I’ve read,” he said. “It pushes the limits of farce quite a bit.”

The events of Smith’s play unfold simultaneously in two neighboring rooms of a fleabag motel. In one room is a crooked mayor who may be embezzling municipal money and is meeting secretly with his female accountant; next door are a couple of bumbling undercover cops, a male veteran and a female rookie, trying to catch the mayor admitting his wrongdoings on a surveillance camera.

Their job seems straightforward enough, but Smith orchestrates a few hiccups that cause everything to go delightfully awry. There’s the mayor’s nosy wife, who shows up at the most inopportune moments. There’s the affair between the male cop and the accountant, which threatens to derail the entire operation. And then there’s the matter of the Scottish hit man, who might be more menacing if his brogue weren’t so impenetrable.

“Unnecessary Farce” is similar in tone and form to the classic British comedy “Noises Off” and Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor”: We can see inside both rooms at all times while the characters cannot, and part of the fun of this kind of production is compromising positions characters will walk into.

But unlike “Noises” or “Tenor,” Finlayson said “Unnecessary Farce” is more concerned with the behavior of the characters than the machinations of the plot. “Farce doesn’t tend to be as character-driven as this one is,” he said. “Hopefully the audience likes everybody, even the villains that are involved in the story.”

So much of “Unnecessary Farce” relies on split-second timing. The actors have to hit their marks just so, bounding in and out of the set’s eight doors, otherwise the jokes don’t land, and the mayhem has to seem effortless. It requires a shrewd combination of comic choreography and nuanced character work.

“It’s been challenging,” he said, noting that rehearsals began before he and actors had access to the main Ignite! stage. “It’s one thing to start blocking and rehearse it over and over again throughout the process. But we had to learn all our lines without the blocking, and then fill that back in. It’s had a different learning curve than I’ve had to experience before.

“But everyone is having a blast working on it,” he added, “and hopefully that translates to the audience when we get to that point later this week.”

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