A Lyric Theatre audience of more than 100 was visibly disappointed a week ago when the opening night performance was halted — temporarily — because a tornado was threatening the city.
The shows are that funny.
Area residents have three more opportunities to be entertained by “Shut and Bar the Door” and “A Toby Show,” playing consecutively at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Use of the word “entertained” is an understatement.
Featuring dissimilar plots and set in different centuries, the two one-act comedies are nevertheless comparable in that they’re both “over the top,” as director Larry Mathis explains before the lights come up. Accordingly, audiences are encouraged to cheer, to hiss, to boo, and especially to laugh out loud.
It would be hard to stop them from the latter.
But it’s OK if you’re slow to pick up on when it’s time to cheer or boo. The actors are ready to break the fourth wall and give you a cue.
Mathis said while the players have become immersed by their roles, they also have taken to improvisation to enhance the fun. That also leads them to attempt to get each other tickled enough to break character. It’s reminiscent of the way Tim Conway managed to get Harvey Korman to laugh with his unscripted shtick during their routines on the Carol Burnett television show.
It would be hard to argue that the Lyric players are any less capable in that regard than their television counterparts. This makes each performance unique in sometimes subtle, or not so subtle, ways. It’s worth the price of a ticket for additional performances just to see what they’ll do next.
After last week’s three shows, Mathis said actors had goaded each other into on-stage laughs at least once during every performance. When it happens, laughter becomes contagious among those on stage, all to the delight of the audience.
Veteran Lyric performers Shannon Lee (“Beautiful Beulah Belle” and “The Wizard of Oz”) and Ben Cox (“The Elephant Man” and “M*A*S*H”) portray a husband and wife in 13th century England who get into a argument over which one of them should “Shut and Bar the Door” to their rural cottage. In their anger, Lenore and John decide that the next one of them to utter a word must handle the chore. The stubborn silence and open door expose them to all sorts of mischief when a Princess, two thieves and a Prince wander through.
The best acting and biggest laughs begin after the vows of silence go into effect, and not all of it is baked into the Tom Gray script. The door is also wide open to a series of facial reactions, retaliatory slapstick, angry grunts and disgusted groans from Lee and Cox. Meanwhile, it’s left to the four passersby to handle the dialogue.
Emily Beane as the Princess, Tim Crawford as the Thief, and Austin Haynes as the thief’s apprentice Jock — all three Brownwood High School students — along with recent BHS graduate Brandon Garcia as the Prince capably establish the situations that Lee and Cox use to generate comedy.
The passersby do well to maintain their composure and stay in character while hamming it up.
Beane and Garcia are especially campy in their roles, but Crawford and Haynes are electric.
Crawford as the master Thief somehow manages (mostly) to contain his amusement as Haynes leaps, hops and tumbles with impossible elasticity as his overly enthusiastic pupil. The thieves’ violent threats to the silent couple build to the most creative chase scene you’ve ever seen — and to think that it was perfected out of the performers’ improvisation at rehearsals.
Audience members might blink twice when they open the program, because stage manager Kris Henry is listed as part of the cast. That’s no mistake, because her constant oversight from a table at one end of the stage helps create more laughs as the actors pick up and leave props or engage in other bits of incidental business at her table.
This is not intended to give away anything, but expect a surprise before the show ends, just before the question of who will “Shut and Bar the Door” is answered.
After intermission, which could last a few minutes longer than advertised because four actors in the first show are changing costumes and getting into character before the second one, “A Toby Show” is underway.
Tim Crawford returns for another round of laughs playing the second show’s focal point — Toby, a hayseed hero who both narrates and participates in Aurand Harris’ award-winning play. It merges the Cinderella story with a popular stage character from numerous shows that toured rural America in the early 20th century. Toby always managed to outwit the city slickers he met with his folksy ways and down-home logic, and this play based in the 1980s is no different.
Cindy, played by Howard Payne University theater student Cassia Rose, is the serious character, with good reason. As the Cinderella equivalent in this tale, she has been forced into servanthood by her stepmother (Suzi Harkey) and two stepsisters (Emily Crawford and Emily Beane). It’s part of their scheme to steal her inheritance and future happiness.
While Rose’s performance quickly wins the audience’s sympathy, the rest of the cast (with the exception of the groom-to-be) push their roles to exaggerated heights. However, none of their performances is more pretentious than the one given by Harkey as the snobby stepmother. Her entrance leaves you wanting to see that again, when your eyes aren’t tearing up so much from laughter.
Anytime there’s dialogue between the hard-of-hearing Colonel (Brandon Garcia) and some other character, a series of hilarious rapid-fire one-liners erupts. And the personalities of hip stepsister Sophia (Emily Crawford) and of Morticia-esque stepsister Mauderina (Beane) couldn’t be played with more dissimilarity, as well as comedic skill.
Local residents should watch for a rare Lyric “hat trick,” if you will, as three generations of one family (Harkey, her daughter Emily Crawford, and her son Tim Crawford) appear on stage at the same time.
The roles held in the two shows by Tim Crawford, Beane and Garcia are disparate indeed, calling on them to reach down for unique characterizations, but Haynes has the toughest about-face to execute. Showing an impressive range, Haynes transforms himself from a bouncy, goofy thief in “Shut and Bar the Door” to the confident, sophisticated Burtock in “A Toby Show.” He looks every bit the part of Prince Charming shortly after playing a buffoon.
Costumer Danna Beene successfully dressed the players in appropriate attire that fully supports the characters and scripts. Lighting by Callie Stenson is effective and doesn’t supports without distracting from the story. The sound is creative, adding to the humor, and DeeJay Moses along with production heads Austin Bynum and Ben Cox win cheers for that. The sets are more complicated than they may appear, and they establish the locales of the shows just as they should. Construction of sets was accomplished by Jimmy Henry, Jerry Smith and Randy Harkey, with painting by Curtis Butler. As director, Mathis assembled a winning cast and crew before turning them loose to enjoy these shows as much as the audience.
The weather forecast for Brownwood again mentions the possibility of thunderstorms, but rain or no rain — this is a performance that will securely transport the audience into totally different realms for two hours of roll-in-the-aisle laughter. It’s the ideal diversion for families to include in their Memorial Day weekend schedule.
Depending on the show dates chosen, the audience might see Austin Bynum as the understudy for Ben Cox in “Shut and Bar the Door,” or Sidney Ivy as understudy for Cassia Rose in “A Toby Show.” Not to worry, the shows don’t miss a beat.
Tickets cost $12 for adults and $8 for students. Reservations may be made online at www.brownwoodlyrictheatre.com, and tickets are also available at the door.