Death and Laughter

Daffy Truth piles the humor along with the corpses.

The scene is a flowery, chintzy little apartment; a woman is reading on the couch, a man writing at a desk. Pretty soon they're bickering. They rehash past relationships and their own history (they seem unable to agree on how they came together), discuss and dismiss the possibility of a fast roll in the hay, and argue about who loves whom the most. Exasperated, the woman begins slapping the man; they fight; she fixes him in a headlock, screaming "Kill! Kill! Kill!" But when the whirlwhind of action is over, it's the woman who lies on the ground, stone-cold dead.

Panicked, the man -- Tom -- places calls to a doctor, his agent (Tom's a playwright) and the police. The cop who responds turns out to be an old friend, Bert. Tom offers Bert several versions of what has just transpired, varying the truth for dramatic effect each time. Somehow Bert becomes complicit in the crime -- if a crime it was. A second woman enters. Within minutes, and through no fault of either Tom's or Bert's, she, too, is dead. It seems no woman can survive a visit to this apartment. Given the number of brutalized and murdered women in the news these days, the plot of The Unvarnished Truth could be troubling, but Royce Ryten's script is so daffy that it's impossible to moralize about it.

The female corpses pile up. The number of panicked men occupying the apartment multiplies. The situation gets more and more out of control.

Step Pearce tries to stay in control in The Unvarnished Truth.
Royce Ryton
Step Pearce tries to stay in control in The Unvarnished Truth.

Ryton's 1978 farce is in good hands at Germinal Stage, where director Ed Baierlein presented it once before, in 1984. Baierlein handles the frantic comings and goings of the play expertly, and his cast gives its collective all. As Tom, Step Pearce is called on to pretty much carry the evening. He's never off stage, and he's always in agitated motion. Pearce has a mobile face and an easy, goofy physicality. His voice slides quickly and easily from tones of calm reason to hysterical laughter, from hectoring to seduction. As Bert, Jim Miller provides mildly understated support for some time, until his own brand of hysteria overcomes him. Then there's David Quinn as the agent, Bill, calmly pronouncing Tom's description of the night's events trite and formulaic, and the police lieutenant, played by Stephen R. Kramer, who enters as the calm, brave but kindly cop we've all seen on television, only to be reduced to blithering impotence. In fact, one of the funniest things about the evening is watching the sequential disintegration of each of these men.

Suzanne Frisch is a gutsy Annabel, and Tara M.E. Thompson deploys a shrill-edged laugh as her mother. It seemed to me that Suzanna Wellens could have plumbed the depths of the deplorable Schnitzwacker more deeply, though her snorts make up for much. Anne S. Myers is a delight in the small role of Isabel.

As a reviewer, one experiences many different kinds of evenings in the theater. Some plays have huge production budgets; in some cases, it's just the playwright's pretension or the director's ego that's huge. What a pleasure, then, to settle down among the faithful in one of Germinal Stage's well-worn wooden seats -- so close to the actors you can see the perspiration beading their foreheads -- and enjoy a skillfully staged evening of full-throated laughter.

 
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