Cooney comedy opens doors for Theatre Baton Rouge

Photo provided by Theatre Baton RougeElizabeth Canfield, foreground, as Joanna Markham, listens as Carrie Moore as Linda Lodge arranges a rendezvous with Nicholas Moore as Walter Pangbourne during a rehearsal for Theatre Baton Rouge's Move Over Mrs. Markham. Show caption
Photo provided by Theatre Baton RougeElizabeth Canfield, foreground, as Joanna Markham, listens as Carrie Moore as Linda Lodge arranges a rendezvous with Nicholas Moore as Walter Pangbourne during a rehearsal for Theatre Baton Rouge's Move Over Mrs. Markham.

Alistair is Philip, Philip is Philips the Butler, Linda is Sylvie, Walter is the father-in-law and Mrs. Markham is, well, Mrs. Markham.

And Mrs. Markham is not only the one who creates this scenario to fool Olive Harriet Smythe, she’s also the one who keeps up with who’s who.

Otherwise, Miss Smythe might take her Bow Wow books to another publisher.

And no one in the Markham apartment can allow her to do that, no matter who is cheating on whom. Or who may be thinking of it.

“So, they tell lies, and then they have to cover those lies with bigger lies, and it leaves you asking the question of how they’re going to get out of it?” Kevin Harger said.

A question that will be answered in Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of Ray Cooney’s comedy, Move Over Mrs. Markham, which opens Friday, May 3. That performance will be preceded by a pay-what-you-can performance on Thursday, May 2.

Move Over Mrs. Markham marks the final production in the theater’s 2012-13 Season of Story and Song.

“And it’s the typical farce,” Harger said.

Harger is the show’s director, and he also directed the theater’s 2011 production of Cooney’s It Runs in the Family.

“It Runs in the Family went over very well with our audiences,” Harger said. “I told this cast that Move Over Mrs. Markham can be just as funny and successful.”

Those familiar with Cooney’s comedies can vouch for Harger’s summation that this play is a typical farce, which usually is based on an improbably plot. Farces also are known for their abundance of mistaken identities and door-filled sets.

“And there are lots of doors in this play,” Harger said, laughing.

He’s right. Theatre Baton Rouge’s set is painted in bright reds, blues and yellows, and there are doors leading to the study, the bathroom, the kitchen, the maid’s room and, most prominently, the bedroom in the small London flat owned by Philip and Joanna Markham.

Philip is a publisher of children’s books, which sounds innocent enough. The Markhams are planning to go out for the evening ,while, unbeknownst to them, their interior designer, Alistair Spenlow, and maid, Sylvie Hauser, plan a tryst in the Markhams’ bed.

Meanwhile, Philip’s business partner, Henry Lodge, wants to use the flat for his own affair with lady friend, Miss Wilkinson. But both are unaware that Henry’s wife, Linda, has called Joanna with a similar request. She’ll be bringing her lover, Walter Pangbourne, to the flat.

Sounds like trouble, right? Right.

It doesn’t stop there.

Philip finds a letter that Walter has written to Linda, but he believes the letter is meant for Joanna. Then, when he hears Alistair quoting part of the letter, Philip is convinced that Alistair and Joanna are lovers.

This is where the story picked up at this particular moment, when Harger watched the cast’s first run-through of Act II without scripts.

Elizabeth Canfield, as Joanna Markham, chased Zachary Thriffiley, as Alistair, around the bedroom. Joanna has decided that if her husband is going to accuse her of having an affair, why not carry it out?

But there were too many people behind too many doors, and Olive Harriet Smythe, played by Lindsey Short, walked through one of them. She’s the author of the popular Bow Wow series of children’s books, and she disapproves of her current publisher’s release of what she perceives as pornographic books.

Yes, her publisher has released books with sex in the story lines, and that simply will not do. So Miss Smythe is turning to Philip Markham. And she brings to the company a guaranteed half-million dollar profit.

Little does she know that she’s left the publishing world of fictional sexy dramas and stepped into a real-life one. And Joanna realizes that she must shield Miss Smythe from the mess if Philip is to win the book contract.

But Philip wasn’t in the apartment at the moment. But Alastair was.

So, Alastair is introduced to Miss Smythe as Philip Markham, and later Philip, played by Ronald Coats, is introduced as Philips the butler, and, well, you get the picture.

Lies are covered with lies, and characters join in on the tall tale, prompting Miss Smythe to sign the contract.

Are they successful? Does she sign?

And even if she does, are they able to resolve their own relationships in the end?

Again, those are questions that can be answered only by a trip to Theatre Baton Rouge, where this PG-13-rated farce definitely will deliver fun and laughs.

The run-though on this particular night was proof of that.

“And this cast is great,” Harger said. “It’s difficult to direct a show like this, because it’s continuous. There are two acts, but the story never stops. It’s not like other plays, where there are scenes, and the action begins and ends with those scenes. It never stops here, and it’s hard on the actors.”

But many of these actors have performed in past Theatre Baton Rouge comedies and are well familiar with delivery and timing.

“I told them to use such British comedies as Fawlty Towers and Are You Being Served? as references,” Harger said. “Also, this play is set in the late 1960s or early ’70s, which is a cheesy time, yet it’s kind of cool.”

So, the wardrobe and decor are set in this period, especially Jeffrey Johnson’s plaid pants.

“Jeffrey plays Henry Lodge, who’s a playboy,” Harger said. “He had trouble getting a handle on this character at first, so I told him to think of Austin Powers without the ‘Yeah baby.’ He did, and now he has that character down.”

So, keeping with the Austin Powers persona, Harger specifically requested that the Henry Lodge character wear plaid pants.

“And there they are,” Harger said, laugging, pointing toward the stage. “It’s classic.”

And it is.

Classic Cooney, classic farce and a classic way to end the season.

  • CAST: Elizabeth Canfield, Joanna Markham; Ronald Coats, Philip Markham; Zachary Thriffiley, Alistair Spenlow; Courtney Murphy, Sylvie; Carole Moore, Linda Lodge; Jeffrey Johnson, Henry Lodge; Nicholas Moore, Walter Pangbourne; Lindsey Short, Olive Harriet Smythe; Michele Taylor, Miss Wilkinson.
  • DIRECTOR: Kevin Harger.