‘Cheaters’ at Trinity is a laughfest
Original play ‘Faithful Cheaters’ is instant classic
PROVIDENCE — Trinity Repertory Company is billing the new comedy “Faithful Cheaters” as “uproarious.” If anything, that’s understatement.
Deborah Salem Smith, Trinity’s playwright-in-residence, puts all sorts of comedy tropes – misunderstand- ings, mistaken identities, surprise encounters, frantic efforts – to hilarious use in telling this story of modern marriage.
Then, Trinity’s actors give her dialogue just the right emphasis, feeling and timing, the latter a tribute to director Melia Bensussen, who rides herd on the building mayhem.
The story centers on Poppy and Theo, a married couple whose work – she’s a physician, he’s a researcher – has taken up so much of their time, their marriage has suffered. Looking for something they can share, they’ve discovered a once bucolic, now dilapidated, lakeside resort they want to buy, refurbish and operate.
But they need money, and that’s where Poppy’s mothers come into play. The couple has invited Marion and Nance Stevens, a devoted couple for 42 years, to visit the property in hopes of tapping them for the funds.
The women are wary, but then Nance, who is a researcher in charge of a laboratory, gets wind of Theo’s work on a nasal spray that chemically restores passion between spouses, guaranteeing monogamy. She wants in, and if it takes giving her daughter and son-in-law the money for the renovations, well, that’s the price of discovering a wonder drug.
Complicating the process are two secrets Poppy and Theo are keeping from one another, but not from the audience. Efforts to keep those secrets are the set up and delivery of some of the biggest laughs, but they also speak, with empathy, to human frailties. This is a farce, but with very human characters.
Then there are a couple characters who speak to pure comedy. Phil is the unkempt squatter who, nevertheless, understands the magical qualities of the resort, where he now puts his name on one of the cabins. “Butsy” Benini Jr. is the real estate agent who has a past with Poppy.
The cast is so good, you’ll love all of them. Trinity welcomes Boston-based actor Karen MacDonald in the role of the self-contained, competitive Nance Stevens, and she puts a lot of humor in even the “serious” side of her character; she’s a woman who won’t let go of her laptop to enjoy a relaxing weekend, but one who can’t resist her appealingly free-spirited partner.
That partner, Marion, is played by Anne Scurria with scene-stealing joy. The character is hilariously ditzy and distractible, and Scurria plays her with flawless timing and delivery.
Stephen Thorne and Rebecca Gibel exploit their gifts for physical comedy as Theo and Poppy, while Mauro Hantman is a hoot as the deadpan Phil. Charlie Thurston as Butsy can get a laugh from nothing more than a sidelong glance to an overthe-top moment in a bear costume.
Speaking of costumes, Olivera Gajic has chosen them to reflect the characters’ personalities but with a sense of humor. One of Marion’s flowing outfits nearly stops the show when Scurria sweeps on stage in it.
The set, designed by Cristina Todesco, evokes all the has-been glory of 1950s cabins in the woods, right down to some pretty awful curtains in the falling-apart windows. But even the disrepair takes on a certain appeal when the sun rises or sets, thanks to Daniel Kotlowitz’ lighting design, and the sound of birds and bugs buzzing in the background, courtesy of David Remedios’ sound design.
“Faithful Cheaters” is a farce with a generous touch of humanity. It looks great, has a knock-out cast and a director who builds the laughs from small to huge. With this production – a world premiere – the playwright and Trinity’s cast and crew deliver unadulterated fun.
Performances of “Faithful Cheaters” continue through May 21 at Trinity Rep, 201 Washington St. Tickets start at $25 and are available at the box office in the theater, by calling 401-351-4242, or www.trinityrep.com. online at
Stephen Thorne as Theo (front, center) and Mauro Hantman as Phil (back, center) in a scene from Deborah Salem Smith’s ‘Faithful Cheaters.’
Anne Scurria as Marion (center) and Rebecca Gibel as Poppy (background) in Deborah Salem Smith’s ‘Faithful Cheaters’ directed by Melia Bensussen at Trinity Rep. Set design by Cristina Todesco, lighting design by Daniel J. Kotlowitz, costume design by Olivera Gajic.