Two Into One marks the 10th consecutive summer Hedgerow Theatre has mounted a Ray Cooney comedy in what is surely one of the most productive relationships ever between a local company and a single playwright. The association began in 2002 when Hedgerow artistic director Penelope Reed mounted Cooney’s Run for Your Wife. An exercise in silliness, the show was a success and became the surprise hit of the summer.
The directorial chores for One are handled by Reed’s son Jared. It’s the fifth time Reed has helmed a Cooney play at Hedgerow and it’s the company’s (and Reed’s) best Cooney production since their 2006 staging of the Brit playwright’s Out of Order, which isn’t surprising as the two plays follow a similar concept.
Like Out of Order, One focuses on a favorite topic of Cooney’s—infidelity among England’s political elite. Cooney typically depicts politicians as hypocritical sex fiends far more concerned with satisfying their hormonal urges than serving their constituents (a portrait that at the moment seems sadly apt in the wake of the recent online sex scandals and the pitiful deficit debate/debacle in Washington).
In One, the cheater is Richard Willey (Shaun Yates), a high-ranking government official in the British Parliament. It’s not a particularly good time to be a philandering Brit politician. Rupert Murdoch isn’t yet hacking phones and digging up dirt on members of the British government, but under famously prudish Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (the play is set in the 1980s), her government has adopted a puritanical platform. On the eve before voting on a bill that would outlaw pornography, everyone in Parliament is on their best behavior—everyone except Willey. While his colleagues prepare to debate, Willey is attempting to bed Thatcher’s shapely secretary Jennifer Bristow (Kristina Psitos) in a London hotel. Unbeknownst to Willey, his wife Pamela (Rebecca Cureton) is carrying on her own tryst in the room next door.
It’s a silly plot but one that is constructed with almost mathematical precision. Cooney skillfully maneuvers characters and arranges situations like a chess master moving pieces around the board. He isn’t particularly concerned with plausibility; his only goal is to provoke laughter.
In his essay The Rules of Farce, Cooney says that farce requires actors who have “the technique, the stamina, the precision and the dexterity” that the form demands. “Above all, the actors must have a generosity of spirit. You can’t have selfish actors pulling attention at the wrong moment,” he concludes.
Reed understands Cooney’s approach to the genre and his cast is a model of cohesion. There are no flashy, scene-stealing portrayals in Two for One, but the well-oiled ensemble easily meets the considerable physical demands required by Reed’s frenetic pacing and complicated staging. It helps that most of the cast has experience with Cooney’s plays, as nearly all his farces are intensely physical affairs that require excellent timing and ample stage awareness.
The humor originates from watching the characters’ pathetic attempts to manage a situation that is escalating out of control. At the center of the chaos is Willey’s beleaguered assistant, George Pigden, played by the wonderfully amusing Zoran Kovcic. A veteran of all 10 Cooney plays at Hedgerow, Kovcic’s Pigden is loyal to a fault. In order to save his boss from getting caught in an uncompromising position by either his wife, the stuffy hotel manager (the very funny Bob Liga), or the conservative politician patrolling the hallways (an eccentric Susan Wefel), Kovcic is forced to feign a gay romance with a “queer tea boy,” adorn women’s clothing, reluctantly join Pamela in a bubble bath, and masquerade as a general practitioner named Dr. Noel Christmas. One of the area’s most underrated performers, Kovcic is a hugely appealing actor who’s perpetually flustered but determined Pidgen is impossible not to adore.
Hedgerow’s Two Into One doesn’t break any new theatrical ground. Instead, the production is summer theater in its grandest tradition, light, silly, exuberant and irresistible. It’s not Shakespeare, but it doesn’t need to be.
$25. Through Aug. 21. Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd. Media, Pa. 610.565.4211. hedgerowtheatre.org