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British farce opens Little Theatre's 81st season

Randy Orndorff, as the Waiter, left, deals with Dick Helm, as Richard Willey, center, and George Mazzarelli, as George Pigden, in Winchester Little Theatre’s production of “Out of Order.” Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Helm and Ray Kaderli, as Ronnie, talk as Maria Santucci, who plays Pamela Willey, reacts. (Buy photo)

Ellen Nichols, as Gladys, and Mazzarelli try to communicate. (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor - jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- What's the secret of comedy?

Timing ... and doors.

As the cast and crew of Winchester Little Theatre begin their 81st season, they intend for their first play, "Out of Order," to draw laughs from the audience in classic British farce style.

"There's always a lot of mistaken identity," says director Sara Gomez. Physical comedy, adult jokes and slapstick humor are also a given. "Farces, people feel, sometimes go over the top," she says.

What a comedy lacks in depth or seriousness, it makes up for in characterization, she says.

"We make them believable people, they're just in extremely unbelievable situations."

At its core, though, it's all about having fun.

"It's kind of just a silly farce," says technical director and lighting designer Rich Adams.

But people love silly farces, especially by British playwright Ray Cooney.

"We wanted to start the season out with a big bang, and we always have success with our farces," says Gomez. "We like to start our season out ... if not with a recognizable title then a recognizable [playwright]." The theater has performed Cooney's plays in the past, and Gomez says she expects this play to go over just as well.

"It's hysterical," she says.

The play begins with Richard Willey, a major Parliamentary politician in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, who is having an affair with Jane Worthington, a secretary with the opposing party. The secrecy of their affair begins to unravel when a body is discovered in the window of their room in the fictional Westminster Hotel.

The atmosphere of the play might seem light, but there is nothing flimsy about the preparation that goes into staging a comedy as physical as this one.

"There's lots of crazy running around and slamming of doors, so it has to be more sturdy and durable [than in a drama]," Adams says of the set design.

In many other types of plays, doors and windows can be painted on or implied as people enter stage right and exit stage left, but in a farce, pieces of the set almost become characters themselves.

"Most farces have a lot of in and out of doors," says Gomez. "That's kind of standard in farces."

A lot of the humor is derived from one person exiting the stage just before another enters, she says.

"Comedy is crucial for a farce," she says, and the set is crucial to the comedy.

The set uses "a lot more bracing, and it's a little bit more like a real house than a set, in terms of strength," says Adams.

"But we've got incredible builders," Gomez says of volunteers who devote their free time to building sets at the theater.

Ralph Bloom, who formerly ran a scene shop in New York for Broadway plays, assists with set design at WLT, Gomez says.

Besides the doors on set, the window has to sustain any abuse it takes from opening and closing several times throughout the play.

"We knew we needed a custom window, so we put Ralph on that," Gomez says.

Despite the importance of the few on-stage props -- architecture befitting the Westminster Hotel and other items that appear to date to the early '90s, when the play takes place -- the show actually uses far fewer props than many other plays they do.

"It's because everyone's always moving," Gomez says. "The action of the play really propels it." In effect, the actors become the props.

"It's a fun part, I'm in and out, in and out all the time," says Randy Orndorff, who plays the Waiter. Having worked at the hotel for about 20 to 25 years, his character knows a lot more than he probably should about the other characters.

"He's constantly asking for tips or doing odds and ends for guests," says Orndorff, who calls the character "a sneak."

He says this is his first time at the theater "doing something this much fun."

Usually with Cooney's plays, there is a main character and a sort of sidekick, says George Mazzarelli, who plays George Pigden.

"Some of his shows have like a nervous character, and that would be my character," he says of Pigden, a colleague of Willey's who becomes involved in the plot when Willey calls him for help.

"He takes care of the situation," Mazzarelli says.

Ray Kaderli plays Ronnie, a character that some of the others try desperately to avoid and continuously attempt to misdirect throughout the play.

"The escapades that they lead him on in trying to avoid him," are what Kaderli believes make his role humorous. "I don't know which way's coming or going."

This confusion is not because of a deficiency in Ronnie's intelligence, he stresses. It's that the other characters are "masters of consequence evasion. ... and that just leads on a maze -- a maze of mayhem."

The play is funny, yes, but the cast warns that some of the content is meant for adults.

"Just shy of PG-13, that would be my rating," Kaderli says.

"It's adult comedy," says Gomez. "That makes for a lot of humor in the adult world."

"Out of Order" starts at Winchester Little Theatre, at 315 W. Boscawen St. in Winchester, on Friday and runs Thursday through Sunday until Sept. 25. Curtain times are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets prices are $18.75 for adults, $16.75 for seniors and $14.50 for students. For tickets or information, call the box office at 662-3332 or visit the Web at boxoffice@wltonline.org.


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