Have You Anything to Declare? | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Have You Anything to Declare?

European Repertory Company

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HAVE YOU ANYTHING TO DECLARE? European Repertory Company. A good farce builds slowly. Early scenes earn only a few laughs as the playwright sets up the characters and their comic predicament, later scenes inspire more laughs, and the last scenes the most laughs of all. Good directors prepare their actors for this sad fact of farce life. Bad directors try to compensate by having them squeeze cheap laughs out of costumes, sight gags, and lots of Jerry Lewis mugging early on. But all this desperate laugh seeking gums up the farce machinery, virtually guaranteeing that any laughs in the last act, if they come at all, will be tiny.

Stephen Ommerle is such a director. Using his own rather tin-eared adaptation of Alfred-Neocles Hennequin and Pierre Venden's French farce, he reduces what in expert hands would be a wildly funny play about a groom stricken by impotence on his honeymoon--full of sexual intrigue, mistaken identities, and breathtaking reversals of fortune--into a noisy, virtually laughless exercise in panicked overacting and slapstick. A good-to-great non-Equity cast--including Ray Wild, Yasen Peyankov, Mike Burke, and Julie Neary--have been left to flail around indulging all their worst acting habits. Peyankov speaks too quickly. Wild sputters, mutters, and lacks feeling. And Burke is just hopeless: I don't think he has an honest or funny moment in the whole two-and-a-half-hour play.

--Jack Helbig

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