Updated: Nov 16
"Business is the art of extracting money from another man's bag without resorting to violence."— Max Amsterdam
Yes Sir, Yes Sir, “Three Bags Full” is finishing up their run today at Westminster Community Playhouse. And No Sir, it doesn’t have anything to do with sheep, except perhaps getting the wool pulled over the eyes of a greedy merchant. And, quite properly, we have had plenty of sober theatrical offerings lately, so it is a joy to be presented with a rip-roaring farce such as this one, energetically performed by the WCP players.
This bright French farce is by Jerome Chodorov (“Wonderful Town,” “My Sister Eileen”), based on the play by Claude Magnier, and is about said merchant who finds himself snookered into being a matchmaker for two daughters, one the child of his wife and the other the maid's offspring.
Rebellious young ladies, a curious new maid, conceivably pregnant ladies and mistaken identities lead to explosive levity. The plot? A larcenous employee who has embezzled half a million dollars offers to return it for a managerial position and the daughter's hand. Half of the loot is in diamonds and half is in cash and stashed in separate but identical bags. A third identical bag contains the maid's unmentionables. (You can tell where this is heading.)
The action takes place sometime in the early 1900’s on a warm summer evening in the luxurious Hampstead Heath home of Bascom Barlow and his wife Genevieve, as they prepare to host a dinner party. Barlow, the wealthy sporting goods mogul, is vivaciously played by superb leading man, Jack Bemaz (“Dracula”).
His long serving clerk, Richard Foyle (Charlie Rodriguez; “A Christmas Carol”) arrives in great excitement and out of control brandishing a roller skate. He has just spent a huge chunk of the firm’s money on an investment in roller skates. He thinks Barlow will be delighted at his initiative; wrong — the frustrated tycoon is furious. He has just been granted a bank loan by banker Cottingham and is already into serious debt, which may be the reason he had to let go key members of his staff.
But all is well, according to Foyle, for over the years he has been stashing away small sums of money taken from the firm so he can hand back a considerable sum to his boss. But there is a proviso. First Barlow must give Foyle permission for him to marry his daughter, Angela (charmingly performed by Amber Toomey; “Murder Runs in the Family”). Barlow is livid and dismisses him on the spot. But he needs the money, which is divided into diamonds and cash, contained in two identical carpetbag valises, so he's willing to make a deal.
Add to that the seemingly curious attitude of the downstairs maid so jaunty with her feather duster, played by Hillary Mead (“Much Ado About Nothing”), when it emerges that she is secretly engaged to the rich banker’s eligible son. She too has been dismissed and has packed her belongings in, yes, you’ve guessed it, that third identical carpetbag.
From there, Barlow’s greed and ego constantly override his sanity and things go downhill quickly, especially when everyone plays the shell game with those three elusive bags. Meanwhile, Mr. Bemaz’ non-stop, razzle-dazzle delivery leaves the audience with their mouths open.
One could liken the play to be in the vein of a Whitehall lampoon with larger-than-life characters pursuing perfectly plausible agendas, all completely rational to themselves but totally incomprehensible to each other. Chaos can only follow a storyline such as this. Farces, by the way, are not always easy-peasy type plays. They need to be played with extraordinary balance and good timing, seemingly so easy from the viewing point, but in fact very difficult to achieve.
The cast, however, more than stepped up to the task, resulting in so much symphonized lunatic humor, you were constantly chuckling under your mask. In fact, what I saw was a shining example of acting teamwork and direction. Director Chris Coleman’s brilliant direction enticed the audience to feel totally immersed in the play, and several of the cast’s over-the-top performances were top-shelf indeed.
That includes Susan Levinstein (“The Long Weekend”), as Barlow’s supportive wife, Genevieve, who flutters about trying to appease everyone as the only calm in the storm. And Eduardo Mora (“Dial M for Murder”) as the recently fired Eduardo the chauffeur, who also returns as a failed army recruit. Then the unexpected arrival of the mysterious Jeanette (Christine Carver) and later, Charlotte (Julianne Bancroft), her mother and replacement maid new-hire, adds a bit to the confusion.
The banker, Mr. Cottingham (John Francis; “A Fox on the Fairway”), also sparks a few scenes, especially when he suddenly calls in his bank loan. And his obliging son, Preston (Andrew Gonzales; WCP debut), drives his roadster to and fro around the town exchanging misrouted handbags.
The laconic butler, Jenkins (Ted Burke), trudges back and forth to answer the front door while conspicuously engaging the audience with his aside glances, breaking the fourth wall. Although Mr. Burke speaks not a word of dialogue, his expressions were priceless.
Jacylyn Kahle is Stage Manager/Assistant Director; Costume Designers are Maria O’Connor, Priscilla Gonzalez, Jaylyn Kahle and Linda Kahle; Lighting and Sound Designer is Bob Nydegger; Technician is Andrew Orris; Set Designer is Michael Corcoran; Props are Priscilla Gonzalez, Maria O’Connor, Jaylyn Kahle and Chris Coleman.
In celebration of their 60th season of theatre, Westminster Community Playhouse presents the sensational farce, “Three Bags Full,” October 1st-17th, and wants to thank you for your devoted support. WCP is a non-profit community theatre that engages with the community through artistic, educational and cultural experiences that enrich lives and promote lifelong learning in and through the performing arts. For donation or information of upcoming productions please visit https://www.wcpstage.com/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report