If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“SCRAMBLE!”, A FARCE IN WESTPORT
The elements of farce are on full display in “Scramble!”, the latest offering by David Wiltse, Playwright in Residence at the Westport Country Playhouse. The comedy has slamming doors, scantily clad women, lots of physical comedy and frenetic pacing. So why isn’t it all more fun?
Set in the wacky offices of a fledgling golf magazine where the head writer hasn’t had an original idea in years and the sexually aggressive editor wears cowboy spurs and carries a whip, “Scramble!” often plays like one of those failed raunchy pilots for the Fox network. There’s nothing inherently wrong with mining humor from the workplace – check out NBC’s brilliant “The Office” to see how well it can be done – but “Scramble!” is all over the map as it sweats buckets trying to make its audience laugh. To be honest, there was plenty of laughter at the performance I caught (especially the high-pitched cackle of the woman sitting directly behind me), but there were just as many of us sitting in stony silence barely cracking a smile. As directed by the gifted Tracy Brigden and played by a game and energetic cast, “Scramble!” has everything going for it except inspired writing. “Still practicing self-abuse?” passes for a witty line here.
What makes a brilliant farce like “Noises Off” really cook is a through-line of truth even in the most frantic and ridiculous of situations. That truth never seems to materialize in “Scramble!” as the office staff is thrown into a tailspin when they hear their publication may be sold and a secret “hatchetman” (the play’s original title) is on site looking for dead weight. The premise is fine for as far as it goes but Wiltse never really gets to the reality of the situation and, instead, is more concerned with keeping things moving -- running his cast ragged as they tireless demonstrate that they will do virtually anything for a laugh.
Candy Buckley, as the man-hungry editor, dominates the action as soon as she makes her outsized entrance. It’s a very polished performance and identical to the one the actress recently performed at Hartford TheaterWorks in “The Little Dog Laughed”. There the actress played a voracious Hollywood talent agent and had a far better script to chew on -- her crackerjack timing was flawless. In “Scramble!”, however, you can see how hard she’s working to make the material crackle. The remaining cast members follow suit. Matthew Rauch, Rebecca Harris, Colin McPhillamy, Jennifer Mudge and especially Tom Beckett – who has a marvelous bit early on in the play extracting a golf club from his pants leg – are all appropriately frantic and exhausting. They deserve combat pay.
Jeff Cowie’s contemporary office settings are in bold primary colors while Ilona Somogyi’s costumes keep the women in low-cut and barely there wear. Comedy is a personal preference, of course, and for many this may be just what the golf pro ordered. For the rest of us – even at 90 minutes with one intermission – it’s a very long day on the course.
“Scramble!” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through July 26th. For further information and ticket reservations call 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is co-founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.