Caught in the Net teaches how-to lesson in necessary farce 

Theatre in the Square doesn’t skimp on silliness for Roy Cooney’s play

In Theatre in the Square's British comedy Caught in the Net, high schoolers Vicki Smith (Kate M. Dorrough) and Gavin Smith (Nick Arapoglou) hit it off when they meet online. The flirtatious teens can't wait to meet in person, but have no idea that Gavin is, as the expression goes, a brother of another mother. Cab driver John Leonard Smith (Allan Edwards) is father to both of them, having maintained two separate families in the London boroughs of Wimbledon and Streatham for nearly two decades.

John realizes that if Vicki and Gavin meet, the results could be incest or the exposure of his bigamy, so he struggles to keep the unwitting relatives apart. Playwright Ray Cooney specializes in stage farces and constructs episodes of escalating absurdity with clockwork efficiency. Co-directors Alan Kilpatrick and Jessica Phelps West rev up the material until it rockets along, even though Caught in the Net doesn't transcend the genre's inherent silliness.

While John rushes back and forth between the two households, he drafts his Wimbledon lodger Stanley (Christopher Ekholm) to keep the young people and their mothers (Wendy Fulton-Adams and Holly Stevenson) from meeting. Stanley only wants to take his doddering dad on holiday, but he unexpectedly becomes the butt of most of Cooney's jokes. With John offstage for long stretches, Stanley must maintain inane deceptions, including the false impression that young Gavin is his rent-boy.

The Theatre in the Square production features a fine, funny cast – Arapoglou and Dorrough even look like siblings – but Ekholm essentially serves as its engine, setting a snappy pace while keeping the component parts moving forward. He hilariously embellishes his lines, collapsing like an unstrung marionette when exhausted, or bowing at the knees every time he says "Madam" while impersonating an answering service. It's interesting that the play spends so much time tormenting the innocent guy, even though John gets his share of slapstick abuse. Perhaps Cooney's making a subtle point that Stanley and John share more secrets and hardships than John does with either wife. That could justify the otherwise predictable scenes of homophobic embarrassment.

I've never seen Caught in the Net's predecessor, Cooney's smash hit Run for Your Wife, but had no trouble following the action. The Marietta playhouse must have reinforced the frames for all the slamming doors, which have the rhythmic musicality of a band's percussion section. If you're not a fan of farces, you'll probably tire of the play's frantic ridiculousness about midway through the second act, but Caught in the Net nevertheless showcases a cast with such precise comic timing, they've got their pratfalls down to the last millisecond.

 

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