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'Unnecessary Farce' brings plenty of laughs to Okoboji

OKOBOJI, Iowa -- If you haven't checked your calendar recently, you'll still know it's midsummer when you see the frothy, silly "Unnecessary Farce" playing this week at Okoboji Theatre (OST.) This airy confection tells a story of mistaken identities, dumb criminals and even dumber cops. I kept laughing out loud right along with most of the opening-night audience.

Paul Slade Smith, actor as well as playwright who toured with "Phantom of the Opera" and currently plays Elphaba's father in "Wicked," has written a show which will not tax anyone's brain, but it's a cheery bit of fluff on a hot summer night. 

Two inept police officers attempt to expose some municipal corruption by way of a stakeout in adjoining rooms at the No Tell Motel.

Before the villain is revealed -- and it's not whom you think it is -- the characters bumble through increasingly frenetic attempts to find the miscreant. Like most farces, this one is punctuated by slammed doors (seven of them in all,) people hidden in closets and spectacular pratfalls.

Director William J. Christie has elicited skillful performances from his actors, whose superb timing gives life to what could otherwise become tedious. Dan Schultz looks and sounds terrific as a huge, dour Scotsman in tartan kilt with bagpipes, whose last line explains the significance of the play's title. (I remember Schultz at OST as the oldest red-haired son in "Life With Father." He's certainly grown in height since then!)

Police officer Contessa Deffenderfer is a gifted physical comedienne with her bouncy demeanor and the ability to skip and roll around the room while gagged and tied up after one unfortunate encounter.

The delightful Dru Silva, as cop Eric, paired with Michelle Wilke, who changes from earnest, prim accountant to lustful female in the space of a few seconds, bring real charm as investigators, more interested in finding each other than in locating a criminal.

Also very good: bodyguard and agent Alex Rodriguez, who hides his timidity behind a tough exterior, and Steve Taft, natural and at ease as the not-so-clueless mayor. In a smaller role, Gillian E. West makes a clever wife for Mayor Meekly.

Continuing through Sunday, "Unnecessary Farce" amuses from first scene to last. Okoboj's cast and crew have redeemed a thin script with their fast-paced, witty two-hour production.