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Cash on Delivery!

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British farce is complicated. First, you need an absurd plot: Eric Swan is ripping off the Welfare Office. Next, a gimmick: Swan has invented a fictional family of cripples, to maximize his welfare checks. Then, incredible coincidence: A government clerk is visiting Swan (today), to endorse some paperwork. Meanwhile, his wife is suspicious of Swan's sexual orientation and has invited a marriage counselor (today). Also, a made-up person has just died (today). And there's a lightning storm (later today). And a broken washer. And Swan is blackmailing his tenant, Norman, who will shortly be marrying a girl who keeps calling (all day today).

Voila: door-slamming anarchy! 

Cash on Delivery!, now at Apple Hill Playhouse, is a funny play, unburdened by morals, logic, character development or point. It's sort of a satire about welfare states and false entitlement, but let's not kid ourselves -- playwright Michael Clooney is more concerned with using the phrase "little Dickey" in as many sentences as possible.

Cash is giddily complex -- men trade names, identities, family trees and, ultimately, clothing. An elder uncle dies from a blow to the head and then comes back to life, only to flee his undertaker. Breasts are groped and corpses are fondled. Clooney takes every chance to be silly, and it's all very harmless and charming, because British farces get away with anything. 

The downside is that Apple Hill's cast can't keep up with Clooney's madness. The repartee is lightning-quick, and every double entendre demands pristine delivery. As Swan, Justin Mohr makes a valiant attempt at con-artistry, but he has too many lines, pratfalls and doors to slam, and by the second act, Mohr is clearly exhausted. As Norman, Matt Lamb is nearly as overworked, and these two leads are the production's sharpest actors. The rest speak in accents unrecognizable to an actual Englishman, and the comedy is lost in pauses and odd expressions. 

Cash is still a funny play, and if Apple Hill's production falls short, it's because these actors aren't perfect, and Clooney's dialogue requires perfection. Still the play is full of goofy one-liners, and if you see the show for nothing else, see it for the faked outburst of Tourette's syndrome. Ryan Hadbavny has built a smart set into a lovely stage, and director Ron Ferrara keeps his cast in order. Such farces are hard to pull off, but as long as the jokes get told, that's what matters. The rest is tosh. 

 

Cash on Delivery! continues through Aug. 21. Apple Hill Playhouse, 275 Manor Road, Delmont. 724-468-5050 or www.applehillplayhouse.org

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