Farce gets contemporary in Creede Repertory's Unnecessary Farce

Many people think of farce as a lesser genre than tragedy or even thoughtful comedy, because with farce there's no focus on theme, subtext or characterization. But putting together a workable farce takes a lot of wit and ingenuity. Every piece of action has to be perfectly timed so that it clicks into what's gone before and what's yet to come with the satisfying finality of a key turning in a lock. Farce also requires a torrent of surprises that seem utterly obvious and inevitable once they've been sprung. In his clever Unnecessary Farce, Paul Slade Smith has taken the elements of farce that everyone knows — slamming doors, locked and sticking doors, mistaken identities, slapstick and pratfalls, sexual titillation that's built up over time and then deflated, funny accents, frantically misdirected activity, a woman in her slip, guys with their pants down and other misplaced items of clothing — and put them in a contemporary context. While some of the action doesn't move as fast as it should, the laugh-out-loud bits more than compensate for any lags.

The scene is a pair of adjoining motel rooms. In one, two befuddled cops are attempting the stakeout they hope will prove their value and competence to the chief of police. In the second room, a city accountant is due to meet with the mayor, whom the cops suspect of embezzlement. She's supposed to trap him into a confession, but isn't sure exactly how to do it. The video monitor in the cops' room is so crucial that it almost becomes a character in itself, and there's some fast dialogue moving in counterpoint between the two rooms. In addition to the police partners, the accountant and the mayor, the shenanigans involve the mayor's wife, his bodyguard, and a hit man who represents a criminal Scottish gang and is known to commit murder by bagpipe. We won't even tell you the groan-inducing name of his capo di tutti capos.

This Creede Repertory Company production of Unnecessary Farce is directed by Jamie Horton, one of Denver's favorite actor/directors — and a talent keenly missed since he left town a few years back for an academic position. His direction is sharp and clean, and he keeps the evening flying along. He also has a lively, energetic cast. Stuart Gates is likable as clueless Eric, one of the cops, and Gary Mitchell is pitch-perfect as the genial small-town mayor who's not quite as blindly good-natured as he appears. As hit man Todd, Mario Cabrera gets the craziest role; he has a lot of fun with it and makes sure the audience does, too — his Scottish accent alone justifies the price of admission. Pantsless through much of the action, Steven Cole Hughes creates a comic Agent Frank, his legs scissoring grasshopper-like in black socks and sock suspenders. Caitlin Wise plays Eric's partner, Billy, a rookie who has problems with handcuffs, self-defense, guns and pretty much everything else — except for doughnuts — that your average cop encounters. With her huge, startled eyes, upspringing red curls and gift for physical comedy (you really have to see her navigate a room while bound and gagged), this girl is God's gift to comedy.

Creede Rep is one of the state's best companies, and this is a rare chance to see its work in the metro area. Equally gratifying, Unnecessary Farce is part of the opening mix of music and theater scheduled for the gleaming, state-of-the-art new Lone Tree Arts Center, which should prove an oasis for south suburbanites — during intermission, a woman in the lobby talked excitedly about how she'd watched the building take shape, and how amazing it was to finally see a production there — as well as a magnet for the rest of us.