“Cash on Delivery” spends five minutes or so winding itself up, setting up situations and characters and dropping hints at what’s to come. Then, like all good farces, it lets go and launches forward into two hours of almost relentless madness.
The Hale Center Theater Orem stage does not lend itself well to farces, being in the round and having only one door that can be considered “on stage” (and doors being so important to farce). But the current production, directed by Maureen Eastwood, adapts very well and loses none of the sharp humor in Michael Cooney’s carefully constructed script.
The situation is that British fellow Eric Swan (Dave Hanson) lost his job a couple years ago and has since been making a living by cheating the Social Security office. He has a number of fictitious tenants, all of whom suffer from various disabilities and special circumstances, entitling them to monthly support checks.
But it’s gotten too deep for Eric, and he wants out; he can only keep it from his wife, Linda (Kathy Wahlquist), for so long, and his conscience is starting to bother him. Only his Uncle George (Curtis Adams) knows the details of his secret scheme.
Before he can kill off all the characters, though, things begin to unravel. Federal weasel Mr. Jenkins (Jeremy Showgren) shows up needing the signature of both Eric Swan and his non-existent tenant Rupert Thompson. Eric can’t play both people, obviously, so someone new is brought in: his real tenant, Norman McDonald (Elwon Bakly).
Norman is a slightly dumb, easily flustered man who wants no part in the shenanigans, which of course just makes it funnier, as unwilling participants are so much better than willing ones. He’s not quite as adept at lying as Eric is, either. When someone asks him what a noise in the kitchen was, he says, “Thunder” — and his facial expression immediately shows how stupid he knows that answer to have been.
Elwon Bakly, a relative newcomer to the local theater scene, deftly eliminates any misconceptions about Norman being a supporting character. Eric’s function is to get the ball rolling and then to lie a lot near the end, and Dave Hanson takes care of all that admirably. But in between, it’s Norman’s show, thrust into an impossible scenario and forced to make sense of it all. Bakly is hysterical, taking the role seriously and not as an excuse to ham it up.
Curtis Adams is a treat as the cooperative old Uncle George. Also along for the ride are Jolene Sayers as a helpful government official, John Gholdston as a ghoulish mortician, Arlene McGregor as Mr. Jenkins’ humorless old boss, and Amanda Webb as Norman’s fiancee.
The show slows down near its conclusion, perhaps running out of steam, but then comes back to finish as wild and loopy as ever. All the classic elements of farce, from dead bodies to men in drag, are well-represented. And any show that claims “heartless tart” is not a personal attack but a dessert item is OK in my book.
Hale Center Theater patrons never cease to amaze me. The theater consistently does "one-thing-after-another" comedies like this one, where something bad happens, and then something even worse, and so on, with increasing hilarity. And yet, the audiences still manage to be audibly surprised. When Ms. Cowper shows up at just the wrong moment, half the audience gasps and says, "Oh, no!" Good for them for getting so into it, I guess, though you have to wonder how they don't foresee any complications in the story.