Sir Walter Scott said it best: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." Ray Cooney, a fellow Brit, just amplified the adage and accelerated it to a new, theatrical level.
Playwright Cooney spun his web of deceit in 1983 with his rollicking comedy "Run for Your Wife," about a bigamous taxi driver who's clobbered by the purse of the mugging victim he's trying to save, then taken by police to the wrong house — he's supposed to be meeting the other wife at his other pad.
The Huntington Beach Playhouse has hit the ground running with this laugh-a-minute farce, beautifully directed by Gigi Fusco Meese. You'll need a score pad to stay abreast of all the outrageous developments, but you'll be chuckling too hard to keep score.
The play is set in two London flats, but it's all the same (unlike Alan Ayckbourn's more complicated setting for "How the Other Half Loves"), and whichever one you're in depends on which front door you use.
Meese and her splendid cast of zanies toss subtlety to the winds, which really is the only way to interpret this in-one-door-and-out-the-other piece. And the over-the-top performances by a few actors actually balance the straight comedy quite comfortably.
In the center of this madcap maelstrom is Cort Huckabone as the duplicitous schlub of a cabbie, aptly named "John Smith," who's wed to two delectable ladies (Natalie Beisner and Wendy Braun). It's his perpetual plotting that stirs the farcical mixture, and it's up to the rest of the cast to keep up with him.
Beisner fares the most favorably here, railing vehemently against Huckabone's strange behavior and screamingly losing it on occasion. The show puts her figure to maximum use, peeling her down to her scanties not just once, but twice.
There's a master thief on the loose, the show-stealing Mitch Nunn, who plays Huckabone's and Beisner's upstairs neighbor and who's enlisted in the cabbie's secret as a device to let the audience in on the plot. The veteran Nunn is terrific as he takes on a variety of fictional characterizations to support his buddy, all with some splendid facial reactions.
Braun neatly enacts the second wife, a willowy and sexually dissatisfied spouse who keeps finding herself locked in one room or another. She's particularly effective when mistaken for a drag queen in one of the more absurd plot twists.
Two police sergeants are on the case, one for each jurisdiction. Bob Fetes strongly plays the sterner of the pair, while Lewis Leighton takes the more collegial role, donning an apron and making tea. Both keep the principals on their toes.
As if this weren't enough, Braun's outrageos upstairs neighbor insinuates himself on the scene checking for a paint leak in the bathroom. Alec Malcyznski plays the bejeebers out of this character, covering every familiar homosexual stereotype and inventing a few more. Nicole Blume completes the cast as a nosy reporter.
"Run for Your Wife" could be disastrous in less-capable hands, but Meese and her cast keep the show on the run, exhausting the audience as much as themselves. Take a peek at this one and be prepared to howl.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.
If You Go
What: "Run for Your Wife"
Where: Huntington Beach Playhouse, Library Theater, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through April 10
Cost: $18 to $20
Information: (714) 375-0696 or http://www.hbph.com