What’s so funny? If you attended “What’s So Funny,” the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and Community (RAAC) Theatre’s latest offering last weekend, the answer was immediately obvious. From start to finish, the production illustrated how life can be funny in both amusing and poignant ways.
The evening began with a performance of Dale Doerman’s “Checkers.” Joyce Abell and Andy Platt starred as an elderly couple playfully working out a lifetime of marital issues over their checkerboard that leaves them unable to recall much about the game.
More questions arose in “Extracts From Adam’s Diary” by Mark Twain. Howard Coon portrayed the stymied and addled Adam, wondering aloud what a strange new creature was in the garden. Why did it talk so incessantly? Coon filled the stage with lively images of Eve and many other inhabitants of Eden. His new reality accepted, he hears a call and withdraws from the stage with a resigned “Coming dear!”
Finally, the audience was treated to four selections from Neil Simon’s “The Good Doctor.”
In “The Writer/The Sneeze” a theatergoer’s involuntary sneeze onto the back of his boss’s bald head leads to a compulsive, annoying and perhaps even fatal urge to apologize.
In “A Quiet War,” two retired military officers meet on a park bench weekly to argue over a chosen topic. The current week’s topic is the perfect lunch.
A third play involves a madwoman who drives a kindly bank manager insane with demands for a payment that has nothing to do with the bank.
The fourth play involves a young aspiring actress from Odessa who appears in Moscow to audition for a part in Chekhov’s “Three Sisters.” Although the director attempts to send her back to Odessa, she persuades him to let her read for a part and wins it.
This is the play in which Simon makes it clear what this collection of plays is really about. Before her reading begins, the young woman tells the auditioner — also the “writer” of “The Sneeze” — that she thinks he is the best writer in the country. When he asks her which was her favorite among his plays, she breaks into hysterical laughter and names “The Sneeze.” When the writer tells her that he had meant the play to be sad, she replies “Oh, it was so sad. I cried for days . . . It was tragically funny.”
The young actress was right. All four plays are tragically funny. They turn into marvelously humorous situations that can be, and often are, tragically sad. To successfully pull this off requires a troupe of very skilled actors and able directors. The RAAC Community Theater provided just that on Friday afternoon.
Perhaps the most outstanding were relative newcomers Andy Platt (the banker, the sneezer and the checkers player) as well as Erin Switzer (Andy’s daughter), who played the young actress from Odessa. Both were superb, and we look forward to seeing more of them soon. The theater’s older hands — Norm Getsinger, Stephani Mastri, Peter Hornbostel, Howard Coon, Joyce Abell and Patty Hardee — provided their usual polished first-class performances. Relatively new to the company — Don Chandler and Gary Grossman — were also impressive. Hardee’s and Hornbostel’s skillful direction brought Neil Simon’s plays vividly to life.