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2nd Star cashes in on frantic, farcical 'Funny Money'

In its opening last weekend at Bowie Playhouse, 2nd Star's production of Ray Cooney's "Funny Money" had audiences in stitches — as this farcical show has done since its 1994 London premiere.

Cooney has written 22 plays over the past 50 years, perfecting a formula that usually includes a middle-class businessman falling into an improbable situation surrounded by characters who become entangled in increasingly confusing events — often involving a series of mistaken identities.

Many of these hallmarks are present in "Funny Money," in which accountant Henry Perkins picks up the wrong briefcase on the train and discovers a huge amount of money inside instead of his gloves and scarf.

Deciding to keep this presumably illicit cash — and certain the former owner has his briefcase containing his address — Henry rushes home to book one-way tickets to Barcelona.

Henry tells his wife, Jean, who has planned Henry's birthday celebration dinner for this very evening, that they must immediately leave everything behind to fly off to a new, carefree life financed by this fortune.

Confused at this sudden turn of events, Jean isn't keen on leaving home. The couple's exchanges are punctuated by visitors, including a taxi driver Henry has called to take them away and two detectives with very different agendas. One is certain Henry must be dead because a man with his briefcase was found in the Thames River with bullet holes in his head.

When Henry's friends and birthday dinner guests Betty and Vic Johnson arrive, they are soon drawn into the elaborate tales Henry spins to explain his situation to both detectives. In fact, even Jean and the taxi driver become players in the series of rapidly changed identities.

Directed by Fred Nelson, 2nd Star's production of "Funny Money" features an excellent, well-rehearsed cast handling an array of character changes with impeccable comic timing.

In his director's notes, Nelson admires Cooney's "great comedic structures, increasing plot complications and characters leaping to assumptions, pretending to be someone else and often talking at cross-purposes."

Nelson knew Eugene Valendo would be "perfect to play the nebbish character Henry,because the two worked together in 2nd Star's production of another Cooney play, "It Runs in the Family."

Nelson was right about Valendo, and about all other actors in his nine-member cast.

As Henry Perkins, Valendo carries the show, playing the quick-thinking and nervous businessman, leaping from one identity to another without missing a note. He relates smoothly to the ensemble of bewildering characters.

As Jean, Mary Wakefield convincingly plays a content housewife who prefers a simple birthday dinner with friends over an escape to Spain. Wakefield's Jean is hilarious, drinking brandy as the night's events continue.

John Wakefield is terrific in every role he's called upon to play as Vic Johnson – even becominga visiting Australian brother for one of Henry's stories. Betty Johnson is perfectly played by Samantha Feikema, who easily slides into any role tossed in her direction. Betty conveys sincere friendship for Jean, along with a free-spirited nature.

Zak Zeeks impresses as Bill the taxi driver, patiently waiting for his passenger. He is amusingly slow to catch on, which makes his eventual skill in playing along with the twists great fun.

Michael Dunlop is fully convincing as corruptible Detective Sergeant Davenport, who adds to the humor as he raises the stakes with each misstep by Henry; and Robert Eversberg makes slow-witted Detective Sergeant Slater almost lovable with his seemingly inexhaustible patience.

"Funny Money" continues with performances Thursdays-to Sundays through Feb. 16 at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie. For showtimes and tickets, call 410-757-5700.

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