Today, a disquisition on the nature and function of comedy.
Just kidding. Still, a gander at three current productions inspires renewed appreciation for the range of theatrical comedy, an entertainment mode that may be especially welcome amid the oppression of news and winter.
For humor unencumbered by social subtext, there's the antic "Unnecessary Farce" at the Keegan Theatre. Premiered in Michigan in 2006, dramatist Paul Slade Smith's crowd-pleaser has aired in over 240 productions to date, according to his bio, and director Ray Ficca's industrious Keegan production demonstrates why: The play is a proficient whirlwind of loopy situations and harebrained impostures, plus the odd ingenious sight gag. And it features a bagpipes-playing hit man.
The Keegan performances are more competent than lustrous, but the characterizations are clear and droll, and the stage business clicks seamlessly into place on Matthew J. Keenan's set, depicting adjoining motel rooms.
Noah Schaefer is funny as a cop who falls for a gutsy accountant (Emily Levey) during a sting operation; Jon Townson looms tall as the Scottish assassin; and Mario Baldessari is priceless as an easily flustered mayor.
Molière deployed touches of farce in "Tartuffe," but the humor is medium for a message. The 17th-century play's lacerating indictment of religious hypocrisy still resonates, given that self-righteous posturing still beckons to the credulous.
The gist comes through distinctly in Perisphere Theater's pleasant, seemingly up-by-the-bootstraps staging, which uses Richard Wilbur's translation, brimming with delectable rhyming couplets. The performances aren't all polished, but the actors, directed by Bridget Grace Sheaff, generally handle the verse well. Of particular note, Steve Lebens does an assured turn as the hoodwinked homeowner Orgon, and Jasmine Jones confidently channels the smart maid Dorine. Jonathan M. Rizzardi is adequately smarmy as Tartuffe. (Dean Leong designed the rudimentary set, and Randi Young the slightly plusher costumes.)
Area playwright John Morogiello's "The Consul, the Tramp, and America's Sweetheart" is another wry play with substance, but the genre is comedy-peppered drama, rather than satire. Launching the inaugural season of Best Medicine Rep, a Gaithersburg company dedicated to new comic plays, the 90-minute piece draws on real events in 1930s Hollywood.
Performed in the round, in a space at the Lakeforest Mall (where ambient noise is a problem), "The Consul . . . " tells of an effort, by Germany's government, to halt production of "The Great Dictator," Charlie Chaplin's Hitler-mocking talkie. When German Consul Georg Gyssling (Terence Heffernan) tries to pressure actress-turned-producer Mary Pickford (a too-wan Lori Boyd) into derailing the film, she finds herself battling Chaplin (an excellent John Tweel), her colleague and friend.
While touching on serious and timely issues, including anti-Semitism, women's rights and the perpetual tug-of-war between art and commerce, the play's central showdown often feels labored, expository and talky. But director Stan Levin's production offers some fun moments, such as a silent-movie-style fantasy fight between Gyssling and Chaplin. And the narrative asides by Pickford's spirited secretary (Emily Sucher) are appealingly cheeky.
The characters sling some enjoyable zingers, too. To Gyssling, who has accused him of rashly trespassing into politics, Chaplin retorts, "I remain . . . one thing only, and that is a clown."
He adds, "It places me on a far higher plane than any politician."
Unnecessary Farce by Paul Slade Smith. Directed by Ray Ficca; lighting, Dan Martin; sound, Madeline Clamp; costumes, Liz Gossens; properties, Peter Mikhail. With Christopher Herring, Jenna Lawrence and Karen Novack. About 105 minutes. Through Feb. 10 at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW. Tickets $35-$45. Call 202-265-3767 or visit keegantheatre.com. Tartuffe by Molière, translated by Richard Wilbur. Directed by Bridget Grace Sheaff; lighting, E-hui Woo; sound, Niusha Nawab. With Heather Benjamin, Patrick M. Doneghy, Amber James and others. Two hours. Tickets: $25. Through Feb. 4 at the Trinidad Theatre, Logan Fringe Arts Space, 1358 Florida Ave., NE. Call 866-811-4111 or visit capitalfringe.org. The Consul, the Tramp, and America's Sweetheart by John Morogiello. Directed by Stan Levin; costumes, Elizabeth Kemmerer; lighting, Eddy Amani. 90 minutes. Tickets: $25. Through Feb. 10 at Best Medicine Rep, Lakeforest Mall, 701 Russell Ave., Suite H205, Gaithersburg, Md. Visit bestmedicinerep.org.