Cash on Delivery

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Is it too early to call “Cash on Delivery” at Hale Centre Theatre West Valley “the funniest play of the year”? I guess we still have 51 weeks for something to top it, but whatever show tries to be more frantic, witty, absurd and hysterically funny than “Cash on Delivery” has its work cut out for it.

The show is a full-on farce, complete with slamming doors, dead bodies, bald-faced lies, mistaken identities and men dressing as women. Eric Swan (Cody K. Carlson) lost his job a couple years ago and, unable to find new work, was delighted when a Social Security check for Rupert Thompson, a former tenant, came in the mail. The tenant had moved away, so Eric cashed the check himself and assumed his identity, at least as far as the government was concerned.

Unfortunately, the British government is not content to just give out Social Security. When they learned Rupert Thompson had the gout, they began providing him with disability money. Soon Eric had other alter egos, too, each of them unemployed, disabled, or in some other way eligible for government assistance. His wife (Rashell P. Ainsworth), of course, had no idea anything was going on.

The trouble begins when a welfare agent (Ray Jensen) shows up to have Rupert Thompson and his landlord, Eric Swan, sign a form. They two men are one and the same, of course, which means Eric has to find someone to pretend to be him, since he’s already pretending to be Rupert Thompson. His slightly dim real-life tenant, Norman McDonald (Justin Bruse), whom the government believes to be dead (Eric told them that in an effort to stop the flow of dirty money), is wrangled into the ruse, as is Eric’s Uncle George (Russ Peacock).

At one point in the show, Uncle George is believed by other characters to be three different people — all while he’s lying unconscious, presumably dead (people in farces never take anyone’s pulse). Naturally, things begin to unravel and explode, and the lies have to keep getting more well-timed and creative. (Eric’s wife says to Norman, “Why are you wearing women’s clothing and dancing with my husband?” Eric answers for him, “No trick questions, please.”)

Despite the absurdity, the situations come across as almost completely believable, thanks to a very committed cast. Carlson and Bruse are the leads, but their supporting cast members are just as dedicated to the emphatically silly script, which abounds in popping one-liners and jaw-dropping sight gags (the best one involving a “corpse” on a stretcher).

The whole thing makes so much sense, in fact, that when an astoundingly impossible coincidence involving a dress and a wig occurs near the end, we have no trouble accepting it. We’ve been so competely taken for a ride that we’ll swallow anything.

As you know, I'm always pleasantly surprised when I see a play I've never heard of before and it turns out to be wonderful. This was one of those, although it's a dangerous script: It's really easy to do farce badly, and this script seems particularly fraught with peril. Kudos to Hale Centre for navigating the land mines well.

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