When the laughs start, they hit the ground running in the Whidbey Playhouse production “It Runs in the Family,” now showing.
All Dr. Mortimer wants to do is deliver the Ponsonby Lecture. It seems like a simple desire as he sits in the doctors’ common room rehearsing. But as soon as the first interruption walks through the door, they keep right on coming, escalating to a confrontation on a window ledge, a police chase and an unending supply of laughter-provoking nuts.
As if a string of doctors asking whether Mortimer, played by Kent Peckenpaugh, is nervous about his upcoming speech isn’t irritating enough, a blast from Mortimer’s past explodes back into his life with some very unpleasant news. Nurse Jane Tate, played by Joyce Napoletano, reveals that the product of their affair 18 years earlier, son Leslie, played by Keegan Gilmore, is downstairs searching the hospital for his father.
As fellow doctor Hubert Bonney, played by Sean Hall, and Mortimer’s wife Rosemary, played by Tamra Sipes, walk in on the confrontation, the lies begin to roll and keep getting bigger from there.
When Leslie finally meets his father, it isn’t the reunion anyone is expecting — and it continues to get worse with a disaster on the window ledge and Matron, played by Shealyn Christie, falling out the window.
Director Bob Hendrix doesn’t refer to the show as a “British slamming door comedy” for nothing. Doors are constantly slamming as characters arrive to add more drama to Mortimer’s day, from Sir Willoughby Drake, played by Kevin Wm. Meyer, pressuring Mortimer to get his lecture ready if he wants to earn his knighthood, to interruptions from Dr. Mike Connolly, played by T.J. Squire, as he rehearses for the hospital Christmas show. Then the police sergeant, played by Jeff Gross, erupts onto the scene searching for Leslie, and a wisecracking old patient, played by Jim Reynolds, adds to the spectacle as people dash in and out, hiding or pretending to be someone else.
The show also features Geri Thomas and Isha Hendricks.
A thousand lies, mistaken identities and a few wigs later, the play escalates into a side-splitting finale and surprisingly satisfying ending.
“It runs at a frantic pace,” Hendrix said. “(Ray) Cooney (the author) likened it to a tennis match. Playing a farce, you have to volley it to other actors. There’s almost no monologue; it’s snap, snap, snap. Every joke is built on the previous joke all the way through the show.”
Hendrix first read the play 15 years ago and has been trying to get it approved at the Playhouse ever since.
“I’m very partial to British farces,” Hendrix said, adding that Cooney best described the difference between farces and comedies: “The basic gist is a comedy has an eccentric person in a normal situation. A farce has normal people in an eccentric situation.”
The first show Hendrix directed at the Playhouse was “Cash on Delivery” a couple of years ago and featured three of the actors in “It Runs in the Family.”
“My cast is wonderful. They work very hard,” Hendrix said. He built much of the set, with help from cast and crew members, especially Adrianne Martone-Stanek, whose numerous titles include assistant director and stage manager. Debbie Blase painted an intricate scene of London for the set.
Hendrix pointed out the very hard work Peckenpaugh put into the show. As Mortimer, Peckenpaugh is in nearly every scene. “And he’s worked very, very hard. … Take a 90-page book and memorize it,” Hendrix said.
Peckenpaugh said he enjoyed the challenge. This is his seventh show at the Playhouse.
“The character is fun because I weave myself into this mess and I have to weave myself out of it at the same time,” Peckenpaugh said. However, a key to farces is that the main character has a few flaws, Hendrix said.
“I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t take advantage of people but my character sure does,” Peckenpaugh laughed.
“The play is just fun,” Peckenpaugh said. “I’ve thought, are there any big societal statements it’s making or some comment about some situation or other and no, there’s not. It’s just a fun play to enjoy.” People can see it a few times and still catch new jokes, Peckenpaugh added.
“I think they’ll like a chance to laugh,” he continued. “It’s not an offensive play, it’s not a really super deep play, it’s something people can come and enjoy the situation that is woven and just entangle themselves in it.”
“If they want to have a fun evening, we’ll certainly give it to them,” Hendrix said. “There’s still scenes in this that make me laugh and I’ve seen it 40, 50 times.”
“I hope we get a lot of people to come see it,” Peckenpaugh said.
“It Runs in the Family” shows through Sunday, Feb. 17.
Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets cost $16 and are available by calling 360-679-2237.
The Playhouse is located at 730 SE Midway Blvd., Oak Harbor.
For details, visit whidbeyplayhouse.com.