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How He Lied to Her Husband and The Brute

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Balustrade Theatre Company, at Le Cafe.

You've got to have a stiff spine to play farce. Rigidly stacked vertebrae encourage a singlemindedness that pushes logic into absurdity. Farce is never crazy. Rather it's too sane by half.

Balustrade's cast begin their double bill of one-act farces by Shaw and Chekhov with poor posture. The first half of Shaw's How He Lied to Her Husband, about an 18-year-old geyser of romantic poetry pleading his case to "a very ordinary South Kensington female of about thirty-seven," slouches so much that it feels more like a Dynasty spoof than a carefully crafted drama (this may have been due in part to opening-night jitters, especially since Balustrade offered no previews for this debut production). The play snaps into place, however, when Matthew O'Neill, as the husband, saunters onto the stage, all English tweed, jaunty step, and aristocratic overbite. His ability to focus on a single objective--here lording it over the boy courtier--while savoring Shaw's overwrought language as though it were an eclair finally turns satire into farce. Much the same can be said for Chekhov's The Brute, in which O'Neill again sets the standard for the rest of the cast. As the rugged and loutish Smirnov, who falls against his will and nature for the excruciatingly proper Mrs. Popov (he spit out the words "I like you" as though regurgitating digestive acids), he drives his fellow actors toward a truly hilarious conclusion.

It takes Balustrade the entire evening to reach the pitch at which farce begins. Like the doughy scones served in the cafe upstairs, this production might be truly delicious if it were baked a bit longer.

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