When England-born, Shakespearean actor Michael Parker ended up in the United States, he quickly discovered that Americans struggle with British plays. He grew aware of the cultural divide that leaves some of us (and I emphasize some of us) delighting in improbable romantic scenarios but not improbable buffoonery. His goal thusly became to write British farces that could translate to the American theatre. What Is Susan’s Secret? is the product of this motivation, cowritten with his wife: also Susan. Whether or not the Parkers were successful, well…I’m still trying to figure that out.
Anyone familiar with farce will know it’s full of silly conversations and exaggerated actions that rely on perfect timing—not an easy task. All An Act Theatre Productions takes on the challenge in their current production of this country inn con-artist comedy under the direction of Larry Lewis. In act one, we are introduced to scheming couple Susan and Michael (yes, yes—apparently the playwrights envision themselves as swindlers) played by Lisa Simonian and David Mitchell. Their charming forgetfulness is a welcome balance to their fraudulence as they trick a series of guests into working at their establishment. Simonian is especially amusing to watch, shoving us into that very familiar “you can’t blame grandma because she doesn’t know any better” situation.
But even as a lover of absurdity, the ridiculousness for me gets a little out of hand. It’s a hodgepodge of weird scenarios that somehow feel both too chaotic and not chaotic enough. The complicated staging, forcing actors into or out various doors every twenty seconds, is done well enough—it develops tension. In a play like this, however, so heavily reliant on physical humor, the characters begin to fall a little flat. The script itself doesn’t provide a lot for actors to work with, and so much of the cast feels one-dimensional. Michael Rutter, making his All An Act debut, does a good job as the cooperative husband dealing with his wife’s panic. Kerrylee Hinkson plays an excellent rebellious and deceptive twenty-something girlfriend who’s just trying to keep her romantic getaway on the down low. As a whole, though, it’s a bit difficult to truly connect with the characters themselves. Perhaps that is the price you pay with a farce.
BUT, even with the husband-and-wife writing team’s lackluster character development, there is a very evident reason you should see this show, and that is the FAR superior husband-and-wife team of Amanda and Greg Hill. They took what they were given, desperately dug themselves deep into the holes left by the script, and put on a performance that had me laughing hysterically. I’ll be honest: Greg Hill carries the entire show, and that is through one ironic decision: monotony. As his character droned on and on about pine trees and facial hairs and contracts, he had a good portion of the audience howling. To be fair, it was mostly people my age, which could suggest a generational gap. Maybe we simply prefer the subtleties. But Greg’s success is not solely the result of this farce/subtlety contrast, because I would watch a one-man show of “Jeffrey: World’s Least Interesting Man” any day.
I typically love British humor, and I’m all for situations that don’t make much sense. (Such is life.) But the storyline in What Is Susan’s Secret? just isn’t fully there. What do I know, though? I am but a lousy American that has contributed to Michael Parker’s agony in the states.
In short, go see Greg Hill suck all the energy from your soul and Amanda Hill be annoyed by it. If you don’t laugh, millennials everywhere will take full responsibility.
What Is Susan’s Secret runs through May 21 at:
All An Act Theatre.
652 West 17th Street (17th & Poplar Street)
Erie, Pa 16502
Get Tickets Here!