A funeral parlor might seem an unlikely
setting for a comedy.
But playwright Frederick Stroppel, who has previously distinguished himself with "Fortune’s Fools" at the off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre (1995) and 1999’s "Brainstorms," an evening of one-acts at Narrows Community Theater (NCT), now returns with "A Good Man," a rip-roaring farce that features a dope fiend, a salesman of pasties and G-strings, a psychopath, and of course, a corpse. The results are mixed, but the play certainly wins in the balance.
"A Good Man," onstage in the auditorium of the St. Patrick’s Catholic School in Bay Ridge, is directed by NCT veteran Betty Kash, who embraces the absurdity and plays it for all it’s worth. She does a superb job of keeping the production lively and deadly funny.
Like bungee jumping and sky diving, comedy that dwells on the macabre gives us mortal souls a sense of mastery over inevitable death. When we engage in extreme sports we look death in the eye and say, "I dare you." When we watch a show like "A Good Man," we kick death in the butt and say, "I don’t give a damn."
This is one play you’ll get a kick out of.
"A Good Man" unfolds much like a drawing room comedy. Only the drawing room is the Good Shepherd Funeral Parlor, owned by Martin Lamb (David Forsyth) and his callow son, Jimmy (Michael Lemmon). And the "good man" is lying in state in an open coffin.
The deceased, Mr. Porteus, has two sons - Douglas (Alfred Cosmo Coletta), the salesman specializing in sexy lingerie, also known as "the horse’s ass" who is married to the libidinous Gloria (Susan Heller-Beaulieu); and Andrew (William Doyle), a walking pharmacopoeia of pills and powders guaranteed to produce oblivion. Porteus’ daughter, Sharon (Lynn Niven), is devoted and devious.
The three siblings are almost successful at keeping familial cracks from becoming canyons until the appearance of Norma Czernlawski (Donna Hefferman), an old flame of Douglas (and apparently his father, too), who walks in wearing a heavy black veil and an attitude of entitlement.
The situation goes from bad to worse when the air conditioner repairman turns out to be homicidal maniac Bobby Gelardi (Fred Milani), recently escaped from the local asylum.
Gloria spends most of her time trying to seduce the senior Lamb. Andrew keeps trying to find a buyer for his drugs. The maniac persists in trying to get advice from the dead Mr. Porteus. Douglas, Sharon and Norma never cease trying to find out who’s getting what in the will.
In the meantime, Martin Lamb juggles bodies and business. And his son, Jimmy, who is surprised by the arrival of his girlfriend, Yolande Kamola (Amanda Dillon), tries valiantly to prevent her from realizing that his family’s in the funeral business. Instead, he attempts to convince her that he and his father are attending the funeral of a relative.
The cast members of "A Good Man" give unequal performances, but under Kash’s guiding hand, the play acquires a professional feel that exceeds the sum of its parts.
Forsyth is the ultimate funeral director - sleek, unctuous and avaricious. Throughout most of the play he either wrings his hands or wipes his brow in attempts to not lose his cool. Like a very amusing master of ceremonies, Forsyth never loses a line or misses a beat.
Doyle deserves praise for his perfect portrayal of the pill-popping, hyperactive nerd.
Although there’s nothing particularly original in Stroppel’s plot or characters, he manages to combine his stock characters and tired plot elements in a highly pleasing way. His dialogue is not always great, but it is occasionally clever. And the rapid-fire way in which it is delivered makes it easy to overlook those lines that fall flat.
The Narrows Community Theater’s production of "A Good Man" plays through Nov. 2, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $15, $10 for seniors and children under 12. The St. Patrick’s School auditorium is at 401 97th St. at Fourth Avenue. For reservations, call (718) 482-3173 or e-mail NCTheater@aol.com.