‘Cheaters’ at Trin­ity is a laugh­fest

Orig­i­nal play ‘Faith­ful Cheaters’ is in­stant clas­sic

Woonsocket Call - - Front Page - By KATHIE RALEIGH Spe­cial to The Times

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.’

Photos cour­tesy of Mark Turek

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...

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