Farce, especially of the capital-R Ridiculous variety, demands uninhibited and sincere silliness. The Summer Company's production of How to Write a Play, by Charles Ludlam, famed founder of the Ridiculous Theatrical Co., tries hard but just seems to lag. It's rather like playing a warped 45 at 33 rpm (hey, that analogy was still relevant when this play was new): It hits many notes, but misses a few and throws off the rhythm.
The "semi-autobiographical" Play portrays a day in the life of Ludlam, and the increasingly bizarre interruptions he encounters as he attempts to meet the deadline on a play that has already been subsidized with a hefty grant. The plot doesn't really matter so much as the chance to crowd the stage with high camp, low puns and the frequent gay jab, not to mention the "politically incorrect" characters that filled the 1983 original and its better-known posthumous 1993 revision by Ludlam's long-time partner, Everett Quinton. (On its first go-round, Play was squeezed out of the Ridiculous season by the overwhelming success of The Mystery of Irma Vep, now Ludlam's best-known work.)
The Summer Company set design, by John E. Lane Jr,. is absolutely fabulous, but director Jill Jeffrey has difficulty focusing the cast on the comic pacing required to build the big belly laughs. As Charles, Sean Flaherty is rather timid, especially when it comes to drag. Joshua DeFilippo goes over the top as Everett, and he moves with the requisite grace.
Adding to the general nonsense is a large and mixed cast, most notably Shaun Nichole McCarthy as Charles' fretful but superbly shod manager; Barb Sawatis and Laura Lee Brautigam as a stage mother and her daughter/victim; William Mark Snyder as a would-be composer; John Mendenhall as a balloon "artist" and a thug; and Victor Vrabel and Zilda Alvez as a pair of dignitaries who click really well together.
Comedy is not easy, especially this sort of farce that depends so much on rhythm, not just the enthusiasm and energy that these community actors bring to the stage. It may not help that so many references, and the general tenor of the play, are a quarter-century old. Still, there are jokes that land where they should and a broad enough sense of humor to give you at least a few good giggles.
How to Write a Play continues through Sat., June 14. The Summer Company in the Peter Mills Theater, Rockwell Hall, Duquesne University. 412-396-4997.