One Foot in the Gravy by Howard Kingkade is a farce. There's just no denying it - it's a farce, I tell you.
And that's a good thing to say about it, because it is meant to be. Director Phillip Colglazier keeps the show at a fast and funny pace well-suited to Kingkade's script which is by turns witty and silly, predictable and not predictable.
No wonder this proved to be the 8th Annual Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival's winning entry. There is humor and styling plucked from classic "what will we do?!' shows (e.g. Arsenic And Old Lace); slapstick worthy of a Pink Panther; door slamming aplenty (i.e. Noises Off) and (I swear!) even some Muppet Show head-banging moments.
Kingkade's plot is simple, and he works it perfectly by bringing us in at the end of the scheme rather than the typical playwright's urge to start at the beginning. The show opens on the rich wife and her boyfriend discussing her dying husband. We quickly learn that their plan has been dragging along for six months now. The boyfriend, Ned, has reached his limit. From this moment on, there's gonna be hell to pay.
Brock Eastom as the overwrought Ned grabs the play by the throat and shakes it. His mouth as he wails, moans, shouts and screams is so beyond-the-norm that he is funny without any lines, but his characters' dim-bulb antics make it impossible not to give in and laugh. His Act I costume, by the way, is subtly amazing - nary a wrinkle and a perfect fit!
Leslie Bryan as the trophy wife Fergy is demented, confident and armed with a rapier wit and a personal history that explains her confidence that the plan will pan out even when everything goes awry. Her calm, cool portrayal slips often enough into slapstick that ultimately she gets more than a few laughs, too.
Christopher Murphy plays Frank Lakeview, curmudgeonly grouch who owns the Jupiter Department Store and whose old, frail self has one foot in the grave, at least according to his dear young wife. His summer suit seemed odd, however, not the sort of thing a sickly man would wear around the house. A clue? Perhaps he isn't as sick as she thinks.
The small cast is completed by the ever-charming Civic Playwright fest favorite, James DelPriore as Detective Dusty O'Roney, a kindred spirit of Columbo, but less bumbling.
If I have any suggestions for the playwright and Civic production team, it would be only a couple of ideas:
One is that the Ned character's volume gets wearing on the ears by the second act.
Secondly, there were places in the middle of the script where things get a little bogged down - the dilemmas are posed, and lots of dithering occurs. With a runtime of only an hour, there's space for tossing another character into the mix. The story mentions several potentials who could drop by to add an extra dose of humorous complications. A larcenous accountant? An oafish bibliophile? An ex-wife or would-be boyfriend? Any one of them could roil the comedic waters to good effect and add just 10 or 15 more minutes overall.
Notes to the author aside, however, this Gravy is a tasty dish and will send you back out into the world with at least a smile about how nice it is to be you, and not poor Ned!