Forced Farce 

Barksdale's "No Sex Please, We're British" pushes it too far.

Don't get me wrong — "No Sex" certainly has the necessary number of laughs to qualify as a fairly amusing farce. Surprisingly, it even has a sly message about the sordid activities that lurk hidden behind the veneer of respectability. One doesn't expect a moral to sneak in amidst all of the slamming doors in a play like this one.

But in the end, all the running about seems more desperate than hilarious, the absurdity more forced than falling-down funny. It all begins when Frances (Erin Thomas), the newlywed wife of a British bank manager (Jeffrey Cole), orders some glassware from a Scandinavian import company. She receives a shipment of sexy pictures instead, and every attempt to get rid of them only results in her receiving another, more distressing form of pornography. A downward spiral of silliness ensues that eventually ensnares a fussy bank clerk (Christopher Stewart), an unsuspecting bank inspector (Larry Cook) and Frances's mother-in-law (Catherine Shaffner).

The production looks nice enough with scenic designer Terrie Powers' expertly engineered set and a few provocative outfits from costume designers Sue Griffin and Sarah Grady. But director Bruce Miller never gets the comedy rolling beyond a low boil, and the script doesn't help with its odd lapses of action. Stewart and Cook have some good moments as the play's most over-the-top characters, but as the hapless newlyweds, Thomas and Cole sometimes just seem lost. When two call girls (Jan Guarino and Monica Dionysiou) show up midway through the second act, the tenuous momentum that's built up dissipates.

Even with its naughty bits, "No Sex" pleases only moderately. S

"No Sex Please, We're British" is playing at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at Hanover Tavern on Hanover Courthouse Road. Through June 18. Tickets are $32-$38. Call 282-2620.

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