Zany but believable comedy entertains
'A Barrel Full of Pennies' continues through April 29
The current production at the Sandy Actors Theatre is like a breath of fresh air, even though the entire two-act play takes place in one living room.
This is where each audience will find the Samaritan family: Mina, her husband, Adonis, and daughter, Alicia, as well as several strays Adonis has brought home.
The story, written by famous playwright John Patrick in 1971, is a farce and packed with humor - some subtle and some undeniable.
The Sandy theater company makes a farcical theme believable in the way Tim Park directs his cast to act every moment on stage - even if not speaking.
Park has a wide background in theater and knows what it takes to project a character from any place on stage to the back row of the theater.
Each member of his cast delivers his or her character so well that the whole zany scenario actually becomes believable - even when everything goes awry.
Those strays include several animals on stage as well as three orphan adults Adonis has welcomed into his home and allowed to stay - one would think indefinitely.
For example, 'Uncle' Nemo has lived in the Samaritan household for 30 years. Nemo, portrayed with skill by veteran actor Dan Bosserman, says nearly nothing for almost the entire play - nothing except 'Peace on Earth, good will to men.'
Bosserman as Nemo must act like a man who should be in an Alzheimer's ward. His portrayal is spot-on.
Also residing in the home is a stray called 'Cousin' Lu, who seems to fear almost everything. She is withdrawn, fearful and says next to nothing - like Nemo. But every now and then, when something goes awry, her emotions will become verbal and she will exclaim 'Oh!'
Cousin Lu is staged by Christine Lyons, who just finished a run of 'The Odd Couple' at the Nutz-n-Boltz Theater in Boring, playing one of the Pigeon sisters.
In the SAT role, Lyons never lets her guard down. She is in character and acting every moment on stage. That's what makes her so believable - even though some in the audience might wish she'd let go of her fears and begin to live her life.
The third human stray, Alvin, is played by another veteran actor, Steven Fried, who has great timing for comedy. He also becomes a centerpiece to the story when he takes the place of a rich 'boyfriend' of Adonis' daughter, Alicia, portrayed with gusto by Sandy High School alumna Amanda Mehl.
As Alicia, Mehl steals the show. She does nothing to hide her emotions, which is good, but a brief episode of sorrow at the loss of her no-show boyfriend near the end of Act Two could have been a bit more believable.
Nevertheless, Mehl leaves no doubt she's on stage, and even with the multitude of lines she has, she's always on time without hesitation - giving a nearly flawless performance.
The other two leads are Adonis, staged by Jim Bumgardner, and his wife Mina, played by Mikki Lipsey.
Both are long-time actors and both have acted on the East Coast and the West Coast. Their skills are very obvious while portraying two Armenian, Christian, Jewish immigrants.
Each has an accent, but Lipsey has hers down pat. Perhaps it comes naturally, and - for whatever reason - it lends a note of authenticity to the role.
Each also stumbled on a couple of words, but recovered quickly. Once, Lipsey had to ad-lib to recover - allowing a brief gap in the flow of conversation.
But this review is of opening weekend, and certainly those few brief episodes - which were not distracting - will disappear in future weekends.
The set is elegant, even though it represents a home in the 1950s. Its elegance is because of the detail involved in portraying a poor immigrant family's home.
The touch of artist Becky Hawley is evident, especially in the neighborhood she has painted just outside the window that Nemo stares through for hours on end.
And the success that Technical Director Doug Holtry has with sound and lighting is unmistakable. Sound effects and the night scenes made the scenes feel like the story was real - not a figment of Patrick's imagination.
For all Sandy-area residents, a weekend evening or Sunday afternoon living through this zany comedy is well worth the time.
It's entertaining; it's an escape from the stresses of 21st century metro Oregon; and it exercises our laugh muscles.
What more could anyone ask from a couple of hours at the theater?
If you go
This joyfully farcical production continues three more weekends, with the last performance April 29. "Barrel" is staged at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 503-668-6834 or visit sandyactorstheatre.org.