Review: ‘5 Courses of Funny Fare’ at the Laurel Mill Playhouse

5 Courses of Funny Fare, written by Jim Wise and produced by Maureen Rogers and John Cusumano, and playing through this Sunday at Laurel Mill Playhouse, is really five One Act Plays, loosely tied together by calling them various parts of a meal.

Jenna Jones Paradis and Rew Garner in 5 Courses of Funny Fare. Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.
Jenna Jones Paradis and Rew Garner in 5 Courses of Funny Fare. Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.

The production opens with the Appetizer, “ISO.” Like the others in the group, this is a comedy. This play deals with a not-so-young man and woman who meet via an “In Search Of” column from a newspaper. These newspaper sections were the precedents to computer dating. They meet at an expensive Manhattan restaurant. Both of them have alter egos who are personified on stage. Both alter egos are worldlier and demeaning to their own characters. Gloria, played charmingly by Christine Alfano, is the 35-year-old still looking for a husband. Norm, the not very successful salesman also still looking for a mate, is played by Paul Ballard, who portrays just the right blend of nice guy and ne’er do well. Their alter egos are played by Jenna Jones Paradis and Roger Paradis respectively. Both convey the superiority they feel to Gloria and Norm. Gloria’s alter ego seems a little bit like a mother whose daughter never lives up to expectations. Norm’s is more like the charming and successful older brother who never lets his sibling feel adequate. At one point Gloria’s alter ego decides the waiter (Rew Garner) is much sexier than her date. The alter ego and the waiter then play out a very funny fantasy tango. Jim Berard does a fine supporting job as Maître D’. Lori Bruun directed this piece and keeps the pace fast and the laughter flowing. Bruun’s blocking of the dance is expert. Also, to be commended, the director is able to communicate immediately that we are seeing alter egos without requiring the audience to glance at the playbill.

The Soup of the night is “Anniversary A Salt.” This starts off with an anniversary dinner of a long-married couple, Frank (played by John Cusumano) and Sylvia (played by Maureen Rogers). They are both stereotypical of couples who, although still loving, have many gripes about their mate. (Think Marie and Frank from Everyone Loves Raymond). Interrupting their dinner comes daughter Jennifer (Miranda Snyder) and her new husband, Adam (Nik Henle). Frank and Sylvia help them get through their first real fight as husband and wife using a method they learned at couples counseling. Rogers and Cusumano make a great wife and husband and hit many chords that will resonate with other long-married couples. Snyder shines as Jennifer and Henle as the beleaguered new spouse more than holds his own with all these seasoned LMP actors. Hillary Mazer Stisham directs this section. Again, the pace is quick and it is visually interesting without much scenery.

The Salad is “Estelle vs. The Washington Redskins.” Any spouse who becomes a sports widow, or widower, on weekends will relate to Estelle (played by Jenifer Grundy). Estelle has had it with her husband’s total absorption to Sunday football. Whatever she does, she is unable to get his attention away from the television. She writes Ann Landers asking for help. She makes some attempts at suicide. She tries leaving. Shawn Fournier is a great foil as Arnie, her husband, who stares hypnotically into the boob box. But the play belongs to Grundy as Estelle, and she is very funny, yet believable, as the put-upon wife. This One Act was directed by G. D. George who successfully knows to leave Grundy to carry the humor. Mary Retort-George does the voice-overs.

Oddly, the shortest play is the Main Entrée, “Seymour Levine Visits the Headshrinker.” Seymour (Lenny Dinerman) is an elderly man who is being mentally evaluated before being admitted to an assisted living facility. Seymour is a bit cantankerous and has an imaginary friend who is really the memory of his army buddy from World War II, Pvt. Billy Flynn, who never came home from the conflict. Now that he is alone, Seymour talks to Flynn regularly. Dinerman captures Seymour’s humor, fear, and confusion and Rew Garner is a scene stealer as Flynn. They are ably supported by Rick Bergmann as Dr. Arnold Simpson. Bergmann also capably directed the short play which was a scene from Wise’s novel and play adaptation, The Caterpillar Club.

Shawn Fournier and Jenifer Grundy in 5 Courses of Funny Fare. Photo by Rick Bergmann.
Shawn Fournier and Jenifer Grundy in 5 Courses of Funny Fare. Photo by Rick Bergmann.

The Dessert is a piece called “Mugger in the Park.” In this short tale, Selma Goldberg (Ann Henry) is an old lady knitting on a park bench. She is suddenly mugged by Thug #1, a young woman played by Brittany Ransbottom. There are many twists and turns in this comedy and by the end, one wonders who the real victim is. Henry and Ransbottom have good chemistry and that moves this more predictable piece along. They are supported well by Dinerman as Herb Goldberg and Cusumano as Thug #2. John Cusumano did a competent job directing this last course.

Unfortunately, 5 Courses of Funny Fare plays only until Sunday, June 17. If you miss this production, be sure to catch their next comedy, Laughing Stock, which opens June 29.

Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.

5 Courses of Funny Fare plays through Sunday, June 17, 2018, at Laurel Mill Playhouse— 508 Main Street, Laurel, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 617-9906, or purchase them online.



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