Left, Henry Perkins (Glenn White) shows his wife, Jean (Rachel Riemke) a briefcase full of currency that he mistakenly picked up in a scene from Theatre Albany’s presentation of “Funny Money.” The play opens a two-weekend run on Friday. (Staff photos: Jim Hendricks)
ALBANY — Theatre Albany’s production that opens Friday, “Funny Money,” will feature laughs by the “pound.”
Seven hundred and thirty-five thousand pounds, to be exact.
“Funny Money,” written by Ray Cooney, whose “Run for Your Wife” had a comedy record nine-year run in London’s West End, is a British farce based on a simple case of mistaken identity — in this instance, the mistaken identification of a briefcase.
The hapless Henry Perkins (played by Glenn White), on his way home to his birthday party, picks up a briefcase, one that’s identical in appearance to his. The most notable difference is that the briefcase Perkins mistakenly takes, rather than containing his gloves and scarf, is full of British currency.
WHO: Theatre Albany
WHAT: British farce by playwright Ray Cooney
WHERE: Theatre Albany, 514 Pine Ave.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Oct. 24-26; 2:30 p.m. Oct. 20 and 27
CAST: Glenn White, Rachel Riemke, Amanda Piercey, Steven Syfrett, Chet Dreschel, Bill Mackenzie, Mark Costello and John Wallace
DIRECTOR: Mark Costello
SET DESIGNER: Steve Felmet
TICKETS: $20, general admission; $15, seniors; $10, students and active military
BOX OFFICE: (229) 439-7141
He returns home wanting to skip the birthday party for a fast trip out of town with the cash, only to find that he has inadvertently aroused the interest of a police officer, who shows up at his front door.
“He (Perkins) thinks he’s been found out,” Theatre Albany Artistic Director Mark Costello said. “So, the wife (Jean, portrayed by Rachel Riemke) starts embellishing that her sister is coming from Australia and she’s here. Somebody else shows up and they’ve had to throw another lie into the works, and it just builds. It’s the old, ‘What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.’ That’s what happens this whole play.”
Things get complicated as the characters leap to assumptions, come up with outlandish cover stories, pretend to be people they’re not, work at cross-purposes and engage in some old-fashioned naughtiness.
Costello, who is serving double duty by directing the play and portraying the character Bill, says the actors have to work hard to make the intricate language and deceptions have an air of spontaneity for the audience.
“It’s just a lot of work and you just can’t enjoy it until you get that work done and it starts clicking,” Costello said Thursday before rehearsal. “There are several bits in the show where the timing just has to be worked and worked and worked until you get it right. It drives them (actors) crazy, it drives you crazy when it’s not working.
“It’s got to be right on the money for the audience to see it as effortless.”
The cast includes Chet Dreschel as plains-clothes detective Davenport; Stephen Syfrett and Amanda Piercy as the Perkins’ best friends, Vic and Betty; Bill Mackenzie as Slater, and John Wallace as a passer-by. The cast has had to work on British accents and make sure that the terminology used is British. Costello said he never thought about presenting an “Americanized” version of the 81-year-old playwright’s work.
“ The syntax and the rhythm of the speeches are very British,” he said. “You can tell by reading it (the script) that it’s a different rhythm than American rhythm. ‘Oh, yes, darling, 735,000 dollars …” just doesn’t do it.
“If it’s done with a Southern accent, it just doesn’t fly. It just doesn’t work without the accent. And everybody’s up to the task.”
Frequently in the play, characters are playing characters.
“The tricky thing in this show is keeping everybody straight, and all the lies straight,” Costello said. “When one character is there, you call them by one name, then if someone else is there, you’ve got to call them by another name. So, when you’ve learning the lines, it becomes very tricky.
“Farce is a little more physical and based on more outrageous setups. The premise becomes a little more far-fetched in terms of the whole scenario. Sometimes it stretches the imagination, but it’s just a lot of fun. People pretending to be somebody else so they can put somebody off track of something that happens. And that’s what happens in this play.”
The wordplay by the characters is more involved than that of many American works, he said.
“I think that’s true about most British plays,” Costello said. “They’re very much more into the verbal dexterity and trickiness and the use of language and the double-entendre, and they sort of underplay it. Americans, it’s more right in your face and farce. I do enjoy the British because of the dialogue.”
He said he decided to include “Funny Money” in the theater’s 2013-14 lineup after someone saw it and asked whether he’d ever considered it. Costello said he had a copy of the script. so he read it again and thought it would be fun to do. Theatre Albany has performed a handful of Cooney’s plays in the past, with the last one being “It Runs in the Family” about three years ago.
“We’ve done several of his shows … and the audiences have always enjoyed them, which is very gratifying,” Costello said.
Steve Felmet designed the set.