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Posted April 30, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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'Funny Money' WLT prescribes a little laughter with British farce

Richard Bennett as Henry Perkins
Richard Bennett, as Henry Perkins, left, slaps away the hand of Pat Markland, who plays Bill, in Winchester Little Theatre's production of "Funny Money." Dennis Grundman/Daily

George Mazzarelli as Mr. Big
George Mazzarelli, as Mr. Big, holds onto his brief case in a scene from "Funny Money."

funny money under a blanket
Steve Nichols as Detective Sargent Slater overlooks a scene where Ellen Nichols as Betty Johnson finds a bra, and Randy Moulton as Vic Johnson, Rhonda Morris as Jean Perkins and Richard Bennett as Henry Perkins smile sheepishly from under a blanket. Dennis Grundman/Daily

funny money couch
Richard Bennett as Henry Perkins, Ellen Nichols as Betty Johnson, Rhonda Morris as Jean Perkins try and hide something from Paul Bailey as Detective Sargent Davenport in the Winchester Little Theatre's production of "Funny Money." Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Ben Orcutt -- borcutt@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Winchester Little Theatre's upcoming production of "Funny Money" may be just the elixir needed during the current economic downturn.

While the two-act play by Ray Cooney won't put any money in your pocket, it does promise to fill your belly with laughter.

Joan Scorgie, a Brit herself, is directing the British farce, her seventh for Winchester Little Theatre.

"He's particularly good at the British farce," Scorgie says of Cooney. "Of all these farces, this is probably the most complex one of his, if he indeed did write all of it, because it seems they threw in every trick and every physical bit they could think of."

"Funny Money" revolves around accountant Henry Perkins' discovery that he's picked up the wrong briefcase on his train ride home from work and that it contains $735,000 in cash.

"He's just blown away," Scorgie says. "So he jumps into the pub to have a scotch to think about it and get his head straight about it."

Henry figures out that the money must be from some illicit activity and decides after 30 years of hard work, he and wife, Jean, will keep it and take off for Spain from England.

"She is totally resistant to the whole thing," Scorgie says. "Just doesn't buy into this at all, but, anyway, he's trying to convince her to get out."

Vic and Betty Johnson, the Perkins' best friends, are coming over for dinner and to everyone's surprise, Sgt. Detective Davenport also drops by, as well as Bill, the taxi driver, the latter of whom Henry has hired for the trip to the airport.

It's at that point that Jean comes up with the story that the Johnsons are relatives from Australia and they have brought a small suitcase with them for their trip.

Sgt. Detective Slater arrives on scene with Henry's briefcase, which was discovered handcuffed to a dead man in a river, and to inform Jean that her husband is dead, when she knows he isn't.

Meanwhile, Davenport, whom Scorgie refers to as a "bait copper, meaning a crooked policeman," is doing a deal with Henry in the couple's kitchen. Henry walks into the room where Slater is trying to give Jean the lowdown that her husband is dead, while Jean tries to warn Henry of what's going on.

"It rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls from one of these situations of lies begetting lies with the two detectives being kept in the house separate from each other that keep popping back in," Scorgie says.

Every time a detective comes into the room, the couples cover themselves and the briefcase on the sofa with a throw.

"They figure out that if somebody murdered the other person, somebody's got all the identification in that briefcase, so he's after them," Scorgie says. "Basically, they're trying to escape to the airport ... They're trying to get out of there, and there's one situation after another and this is where it gets crazy."

Davenport is played by Paul Bailey, who says "Funny Money" should be a hit with local audiences.

"They're gonna like it because they're gonna love to laugh and the great thing about British farces, it's ordinary people in outrageous situations, where in an American comedy, it's outrageous people in normal situations," Bailey says.

Stephen Nichols, who plays Slater, likes the transformation his character makes throughout the play.

"He gets to make the most change over the course of the play," Nichols says. "He goes from being commiserating and solicitous to being half manic."

Nichols' wife, Ellen, plays Betty Johnson.

"She is enjoying the situation more than anybody else," Mrs. Nichols says of her character. "That's kind of fun. She's gung ho. She's up for anything."

Henry Perkins is played by Richard Bennett, who has been in a number of British farces at Winchester Little Theatre.

"The audience brings all of us up another notch," Bennett says. "When we're rehearsing, we're trying to make sure we get the lines and the timing, but when the audience is there, it's like it all comes to life and especially in our place. It's like the audience is on stage with us. Sometimes the audience will add their own lines."

Jean Perkins is played by Rhonda Morris, who is married to Bennett in real life.

"It's just like home," Morris says, laughing about playing opposite her husband.

Morris also enjoys the transformation of her character in "Funny Money."

"She starts out as sort of a normal person, but then circumstances change her life a little bit during the course of the play," Morris says. "She gets a little inebriated during the show, so that's kind of fun."

Pat Markland plays Bill, the taxi driver.

"I like that he's the comic relief," Markland says. "I think he's the guy who just pops in and says a few funny lines and leaves. It's just the kind of role that's in most British farces. I'm happy and proud to be able to take that role."

George Mazzarelli's character, Mr. Big, may be the wackiest role in the play.

"I enjoy that character because there's really absolutely nothing personal written about this character, so I can just go wild with his history and where he's coming from," Mazzarelli says. "Since it's a small part, it has to stick out from the other characters and I'm really having fun thinking of ways I can make him stick out."

Mazzarelli bears a strong resemblance to Woody Allen.

"I've definitely looked up to him as inspiration, along with Zero Mostel and other people like Woody Allen," Mazzarelli says.

Vic Johnson, who is played by Randy Moulton, may be the character who is somewhat the embodiment of the play.

"The part I like about the character is that he gets to play a person who's just confused almost the whole time," Moulton says. "They're a lot of laugh lines I think and a lot of confusion."

"Funny Money" will run May 8-10 at Winchester Little Theatre at 315 W. Boscawen St. It continues on May 14-17 and May 21-23. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors 62 and up, and $14 for children through high school and college students. For more information, call the box office at 662-3331 or send an e-mail to box office@wltonline.org.

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