Early in the second act of "The Fantasticks," the latest from the Ashland Stage company, actors Jim Morgan and Robert Fix (as The Narrator and The Boy, respectively) launch into a dynamic rendition of "I Can See It," a melodic duel between hopeful anticipation and knowing deceit. The scene sparkles with the kind of sincere theatrical charm that is so often lampooned in these cynical postmodern times. Unfortunately for this production, the polish of this one number reveals a little too clearly the deficiencies of the rest of the show.
Particularly during the musical numbers, ASc's production just seems a bit awkward. This problem is typified by the performance of Jill Twiss as The Girl. There's a lot riding on her young shoulders, as she plays the object of The Boy's affection and, in a larger sense, the metaphor for every na‹ve girl. The plot has her falling victim first to the machinations of her father (Eric Dobbs), who is in league with The Boy's Father (Macklin Columber) in trying to pair their children up. Then the dashing bandit El Gallo (also Morgan) schemes to break her heart. As the plot twists turn, Twiss maintains a winning innocence. But when singing, she seems to be straining as if some notes are just out of her reach. The same can be said for many of the supporting cast members.
Morgan and Fix are the only consistent performers here. Morgan has a dramatic way with a cape that carries over into his finely tuned turn as a master manipulator. Fix convincingly projects pompous na‹veté and, later, weary wisdom. In director Ted Boelt's staging, the action was occasionally dimly lit, a difficulty that may have been remedied after the preview performance I saw. Otherwise, the production is appropriately simplistic, though, in the case of some of the performances, in want of some sophistication.
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In a great farce, the playwright sets up the characters and situations like a line of dominos and then lets them fall. Scenes cascade one into the next so that the play grows ever more hilarious out of sheer momentum. The only thing wrong with the way Ray Cooney has written "Funny Money," currently running at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre & Restaurant, is that he runs out of dominos before the end of the play and has to fish around for more to keep things moving. For instance, a silly complication near the end involving a pet cat comes totally out of nowhere. While you may laugh at it, you'll probably be rolling your eyes at the same time.
But even taking into account that one caveat, this show is an efficient laugh generator. It starts out simply enough, with British accountant Henry Perkins (Joe Pabst) arriving home carrying a briefcase that he has mistaken for his own. It turns out to be stuffed with cash. While he is trying to convince his reluctant wife, Jean (Debra Wagoner), to flee to Spain with him, the cops start snooping around, two goofy friends show up for dinner, and Henry's real briefcase turns up in the arms of a dead body.
As his character is forced to provide more elaborate and outlandish explanations of what's going on, Pabst becomes a comic dervish, spinning out increasingly manic expressions. Wagoner is a delight as the increasingly confused and inebriated Mrs. Perkins. Vicki McLeod and Richard Koch are perfect foils as the dinner guests. But Jason Sawyer steals the show in his small role as a dumb-like-a-fox taxi driver named Bill. The Mill has become a reliable provider of rollicking British romps. Even when the plays aren't great as written, the productions at the Mill are pretty darn
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