Light-as-a-snowflake farce soothes during hectic season
By Patti Restivo
Dec 06, 2016 | 8:36 AM
Light as snowflakes, the Laurel Mill Playhouse's fresh production of emerging playwright Tim Koenig's "Happy Hollandaise" passes on traditional holiday sentiment and heads straight for your funny bone.
Currently the director of drama at Bethel Church in Lodi, Calif., the American playwright is a member of Christians in Theatre Art, a worldwide nonprofit support network of Christian theater artists.
Koenig has two fluffy plays published with Pioneer Drama Service —"Avarice in Ambrosia" and "Happy Hollandaise." The latter, performed here, is a fast-paced comedy mimicking British farce that has been performed at Black Rose Theatre (a community theater in Mississippi) and several schools, including Cedars Christian School in Prince George, B.C., Canada.
Produced by Laurel resident Maureen Rogers and directed for the Playhouse by Michael Hartsfield, of Laurel, the unlikely Christmas tale unfolds in the living room of the Finley family in modern day England on Christmas Eve.
Claire Finley (played by Barbara Gasper) is a socialite yearning for the "perfect Christmas" so much that she's hired a renowned German chef, Vilma Hasenpfeffer, to serve eggs benedict with her famous hasenpfeffer hollandaise sauce at a perfect Christmas Eve dinner.
As the lights rise, Claire paces frantically, lamenting that this is the worst day of her life. Enter Laurel resident Rob Allen as her brother, George, a melodramatic chap who assumes their father is dead when Claire informs him there's been an accident.
But Philip Finley (played by Jeff Dunne) is far from dead. Claire has accidentally coshed the retired actor on the head as the result of a practical joke gone awry.
The head injury causes Philip to assume the persona of roles he's played in 30 years of West End theater. One never knows for sure who will appear when Dunne makes his entrances (although McGugan's costume design helps), which keeps the action lively.
Add in some cat burglars who've mistaken the address, clergy, a suspicious inspector and a very pregnant vicar's wife and the comedy takes off.
A cute moment early in Act 1 sets the tone for the craziness that follows. Claire warns George that Philip could appear as the Phantom of the Opera and drag them to his lair at any moment; the door to the basement costume room opens and there he stands.
Neither Claire nor George notice the masked Phantom looming there and Claire slams the door in his face.
As Claire, Gasper gets quite skilled at coshing people on the head in her frantic attempts to hide her deluded father from their guests and in chiding George for his puns. Allen is suitably aloof and entertaining as George.
Dunne's characterization of Philip is as large as anyone could ask. Whether Philip appears as Hamlet, a pirate, a priest or Santa Claus, Dunne exudes energy while seeming most believable in the brief moments he slips back into Philip.
On opening weekend, Shultz as Vilma was delightful as the chef with an exuberant German accent and hidden heartache. Her physical comedy (Vilma sustains a lot of head hitting) was consistently well presented.
Michael Angeloni and Laurel resident Heather Warren as Irene Quigley make a charming Lone Wolf burglar and accomplice.
As the only American character, Warren gets off easy in the accent department (Koenig has written characters with accents all over the board, which can be daunting in community theater) and Irene gets to be a heroine at play's end.
Shawn Fournier and Taylor Duvall as Father William Abbott and his wife, Mary, also bring spice to the plot. When Philip (believing he is a Catholic priest) mistakes Mary as an unwed mother, Duvall's reaction is priceless.
David McCrary appeared to relish every moment as Inspector Archie and Alice Abernathy on opening weekend.
Hartsfield designed the tech, which worked fine.
"Happy Hollandaise" at Laurel Mill Playhouse offers fast laughs during a hectic season. While it doesn't quite step up to a British farce — the timing is off and lines like "Good old dad" don't sound quite right— there is enough of a moral message and lighthearted comedy to sooth the nerves of any stressed-out Santa.
"Happy Hollandaise" continues weekends through Dec. 18, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St. General admission is $20. Students 18 and under, active duty military and seniors 65 and over pay $15. For reservations, call 301-617-9906 and press 2, or buy tickets online at laurelmillplayhouse.org.
(Marge McGugan will assume the roles of Inspector Archie and Alice Abernathy Dec. 9–10. Jennifer Shultz will play Inspector Archie and Alice Abernathy with Marge McGugan as Vilma Hasenpfeffer Dec. 11–18.)