“Move Over, Mrs. Markham” is a sprightly way to segue into the new year and beat back some of the doldrums of January and February.
. . . the Port Tobacco Players have created a zesty, timed-to-the-split-second, laugh-out-loud jolly good time with this material. It’s just plain fun and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
Set in the 1970s, the frenetic plot hinges on classic romantic farce elements—misunderstandings and confusion, exceedingly well-timed exits and entrances, and an unfaltering breezy tone to carry it all off.
Philip and Joanna Markham have an elegant London flat in the process of being redecorated by Alistair Spenlow. The flat is on the top floor of the children’s publishing house owned by Henry Lodge (Philip is the junior partner). Linda, Henry’s wife, and Joanna are friends.
Due to Henry’s roaming ways, Linda decides that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and decides to consummate a love affair with Walter Pangbourne. Henry is currently pursuing a Miss Wilkinson, a long-distance operator. Then, finally, there is Sylvie, the Markhams maid/au pair (although if there are any children, they are well hidden and extraordinarily quiet for very long periods of time); she is initiating an affair with Alistair.
As the Markhams are going to be out at a “dreary publishing dinner” that night, Linda has decided to tryst in their flat with Walter; Henry is going to have his way with Miss Wilkinson in the same flat; and Sylvie and Alistair will be making whoopee, as well. Of course, no one bothers to see if the flat is empty except for Linda; everybody else just assumes, and, well, that causes complications in what might be just the busiest apartment in London.
In fact, the only one who will not be making any whoopee is renowned children’s book author, Olive Harriet Smythe, who pops up midway through the second act and throws even more of a spanner into the works.
(One spoiler alert—there are happy endings; good romantic farces always finish with happy endings. It might be a rule set by Shakespeare.)
The plot is somewhat dated, as are the broadly-drawn characters; e.g., if Alistair is a decorator (or as he insists, designer), then he must be gay. The women’s heads are filled with shopping and their husbands and gossip. The men all work and any energy left over from that is harnessed in the pursuit of sex.
Brenna Prestidge starts off as a pleasant, somewhat sedate lady of leisure, who becomes increasingly unraveled as the plots multiply and the identities pile up. Her character is also impressive for the sheer volume of her lungs when she finally gets fed up and for remembering everyone’s names and aliases. Prestidge sets the tone and helps keep the pace frenetic and funny.
Philip Markham is played by Jason Klonkowski; Linda Lodge by Dawn Hower; Henry Lodge by David Timmermann; Sylvie by Tara Waters; Alistair Spenlow by Archie Parker; Walter Pangbourne by Neil Twohig; and Olive Harriet Smythe by the redoubtable Tessa N. Silvestro, who brings to the who shenanigans a sense of an adult entering the room. She may be a somewhat dotty adult, but she has a grown-up mission (switching publishers to ones not interested in sex—in books, at least); one senses she chooses to believe the outrageous lies and behavior in order to get those blasted contracts drafted and initialed.
As Alistair, Parker gets the opportunity to not only inject some seemingly effortless physical comedy into the proceedings but to proclaim, with a straight face, that nothing could be better than mixing teal blue drapes with “tomahta” upholstery.
The 1970s are well represented in the costumes by Quentin Nash Sagers, assisted by Erica Klonkowski, Lisa Magee, Carol Russell, Janice Nash Sagers, and Ben Simpson. And as director, Kyle Rappe, who previously directed PTP’s comedic farce, “Boeing Boeing”, brings his talents for timing and mixing physical comedy with the verbal jousting to this production.
One caveat is that the music from the late 1960s and the 1970s that is supposed to be playing pre-show and during intermission was more akin to a distant murmur. If one listened really hard, one could make out that there was a tune.
All in all, this is a delightfully zany, fluffy farce. But in the right hands, fluff and laughter can have rejuvenating properties, and this production does.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
“Move Over, Mrs. Markham” runs through February 2, 2020, at Port Tobacco Players, La Plata, MD. For more information, click here.