In his lifetime, Carl Beck says, just two top-notch farces have been written: "Noises Off" and "Lend Me a Tenor."
"Tenor," by Ken Ludwig, opens Friday on the Omaha Community Playhouse's Hawks Mainstage, sending a cast of eight in and out of a hotel suite's five doors with gusto — and hair-trigger timing.
"This is the kind of show where Carl's in his element," said actor Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek, who plays tenor-wannabe Max in the show. "You can tell he's having a good time directing it."
"Lend Me a Tenor," set in 1934 in Ohio, finds tenor extraordinaire Tito Merelli (Joe Dignoti) set to play the lead in "Otello." But when his wife mistakenly thinks he's having an affair, she flees. Tito overdoses on tranquilizers, and Max must pretend to be Tito.
An opera company manager, a predatory soprano, a gala chairwoman and an infatuated ingenue add to the chaos, much of it witnessed by a fretful bellhop.
"In good farce there's a wonderful rhythm to the writing," Beck said. "Neil Simon had a musical rhythm to how he built jokes. In 'Tenor,' you find the exact same sort of rhythm. It's all about capturing that."
Performers, Beck said, need to be able to hear that rhythm — something he said can't be trained into them. His veteran cast includes Dennis Collins, Laura Leininger, Cathy Hirsch, Jodi Vaccaro, Stacie Lamb and Noah Diaz.
Clark-Kaczmarek compared farce to commedia dell'arte, in which archetypal characters get caught in improbable situations.
"Carl is so good at the pratfalls, the hilarious stage business that's specific and funny because it's built into the situation," he said.
Beck said the key is that the audience must care about the characters and the goals they are striving for. "Otherwise it gets very tiresome and very loud, very fast."
Clark-Kaczmarek agreed, saying audiences care if they watch real characters get caught up in ridiculousness, then wonder how they can get out of it.
"If you do it honestly, that's where the funny is," he said. "I don't think anybody's funny if they think they're funny."
Clark-Kaczmarek said he loves the physicality of farce, riding the wave when a laugh is built up correctly. That, Beck said, is when the audience becomes an additional actor in the comedy.
"They're obviously not easy to do," Beck said of farces. "And they're terribly difficult to write. Interestingly, Ludwig never matched the level of 'Tenor' again."
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