Cabbie drives the chaos

A taxi man and his two wives add up to a farce that's big and bawdy enough for two plays

Do you like naughty British comedies?

Try this 'Carry On' movie scene and find out.

Comedian Sid James portrays a doctor conducting a physical on a well-developed girl.

He: 'Now then Ñ big breaths.'

She: 'Yeth, and I'm only thixteen.'

Comedian Benny Hill and those 'Carry On' movies have defined cheesy British comedy Ñ farces Ñ to American audiences for the past 40 years.

Stories hinge on outrageous lies, mistaken identity, men in women's clothing, girls in skimpy underwear (and sometimes school uniforms), naughty police officers (or clergymen) and sexual innuendo in every conversation.

British comic Brian Rix has produced farces like 'Dry Rot' and 'Simple Spymen' in London's West End since 1950. Actor-playwright Ray Cooney went to work for him in 1956 and has written more than 60 plays since then.

Cooney is best known for 'Run for Your Wife,' his 1983 hit about a bigamous cabbie whose double life is disrupted by an accident that puts him in hospital Ñ with two wives worried about him and the police investigating. 'Run' played on Broadway in the late 1980s, directed by and starring Cooney.

Two years ago, Cooney wrote a sequel, 'Caught in the Net,' which surmises that the cabbie managed to keep his two lives separate until his son and daughter (by separate wives) find each other as teenagers on and arrange to meet. Yikes!

Last week, Triangle Productions presented 'Run for Your Wife.' This week they're doing 'Caught in the Net' and next week through May 25 the two plays run alternately in repertory. That means audiences can see 'Run' on Thursday and Saturday and 'Caught' on Friday and Sunday.

It sounds like an exhausting schedule for the actors.

'I bet they all told you that,' says Don Horn, who's directing and producing both shows and who talked to Cooney himself in London when 'Caught' was first performed two years ago.

'Ray was very interested that anybody would think of doing it this way,' Horn says. 'But I believe the audience that sees one will want to see the other. We're the first company to do 'Caught' in the U.S. and only the second to do it anywhere (Cooney's in London was the first). You've got to have a gimmick, and this is a gimmick.'

Five core actors will be in both productions. Don Alder is John Smith, the cabbie; Cherie Price is Mary, his first wife; Jennifer Niederloh is Barbara, his second wife; and Dale Johannes is Smith's sorely tried best friend and lodger, Stanley Gardner. Don Burns appears in the first play as a police officer and in the second as Stanley's father. Michael Teufel appears in 'Run' as an outrageous gay neighbor, apparently modeled on London's Danny LaRue.

Doing two plays at once and keeping them separate is difficult, the actors agree.

'Rehearsing is hard,' says Price, who played in the last production of 'Run for Your Wife' in 1996-97. 'The line load is overwhelming.'

By 'line load,' Price is referring to the sheer number of lines the actors must learn. Both plays move very fast; Smith repeatedly faces crises he must fast-talk his way out of. This means the actors learn masses of dialogue.

Horn also elected to do the plays on one set, as opposed to two sets side by side, which is sometimes the case. This means actors enter the same space from separate doors and are essentially in parallel worlds. It's pretty easy for the audience to pick up from the first tandem phone conversation, but it's hard for the actors.

'I couldn't remember if the door was meant to be locked,' Alder tells Niederloh after the first preview.

'Did you hear me say no?' Niederloh asks (from the other side). 'I thought everybody could hear me.'

Price is also a choreographer and has set several Triangle productions, so she's really aware of timing.

'If an entrance is delayed by a fraction, the timing is off. If the other character can't respond you have to build it up again,' she says. 'That's been a challenge for all of us.'

Johannes agrees.

'It's ridiculously fast Ñ little scenes broken into chunks. I'm used to being able to come offstage and think, 'What's next?' Now I'm just listening for my cue.'

Johannes and Price also shared another concern Ñ not surprising since Cooney's writing about the same characters in both plays.

'I think of the two shows as Part 1 and Part 2,' Johannes says. 'Some of the lines are so similar I have to remember which one I'm in!'

Niederloh says the pace reminds her of the 'Lucy' television episode when Lucille Ball was trying to keep up with the production line at the chocolate factory.

'I'm standing behind this closed door and I'm thinking, 'Why did I decide to do this? Nobody was going to hurt my family if I refused!' '

Niederloh says the audience laughter (and there is plenty) helps move the story along and gives the actors something to play off.

'And the time just flies by,' she says. 'You don't have time to think, the story's just in your body like a song. If you're thinking, the scene's already done, the door's locked and you're behind it.'

Contact Paul Duchene at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..