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‘A Comedy of Tenors’ is delightfully funny

One of my favorite moments in “A Comedy of Tenors,” the play that is on a three-week extended run in the Millbrook Playhouse cabaret, happens close to the beginning when Mimi, the ingenue, turns to the audience and comments, “This comes perilously close to French farce.”

And sure enough, the set — designed to look like a suite in an elegant 1930s Parisian hotel — soon becomes a site of choreographed madness, with its properly farcical slamming of bedroom doors, and its mistaken identities, missed opportunities, sexual innuendos, double entendres, and unintentional revelations. (As an aside, I decided to look up the term “farce” for this review and discovered that it comes from the French for “stuffing” and originally referred to moments of comical horseplay inserted into solemn religious dramas, no doubt to make them more palatable; it wasn’t until the 15th and 16th centuries that the term came to define a dramatic form with an authentic identity of its own.)

Fans of the Millbrook hit “Lend Me a Tenor” will be delighted to see many of the original characters creating havoc once again in this hilarious sequel. Here are Henry Saunders (played by Frank Franconeri), under growing pressure to produce a concert on time, his assistant and would-be tenor Max (Christopher Josiah Doss), his star tenor Tito Merelli (Sean Magnacca), and Merelli’s fiery wife Maria (Jill Anthony). The cast is completed by the third tenor Carlo (Ricky Marchese), his girlfriend Mimi (Morgan Sichler), and an old flame of Tito’s, a Russian soprano named Tatiana Racon (Karen Querns Dupper). The plot derives its urgency from the fast-approaching concert deadline and from Saunders’s insistence on featuring three tenors in the line-up, a goal that remains elusive as one after the other gets waylaid, quits in high dudgeon, or disappears lecherously into the nearest bedroom. Under increasing pressure, the characters are interwoven more and more tightly in a tangle that becomes even more deliciously messy as a singing bellhop named Beppo — an exact Tito look-alike — arrives to complicate the plot, and save the day.

The success of a production with this many twists and turns depends on delivery and timing, and this cast does not disappoint. Frank Franconeri, as Saunders, travels the entire play in frantic high gear, red-faced from the start and almost literally tearing his hair out as everyone else disregards his schedule and cavorts around him. Having served in the past as a mayor in Ohio, he is called upon in the play’s final moments to perform an impromptu emergency wedding, and Franconeri is able to convey beautifully the comic tension of wedding vows stumbled over and hastily put to rest. Ricky Marchese, whose Carlo is caught literally with his pants down, does a wonderful hopping dance across the stage as he attempts to avoid discovery and finish dressing at the same time. And Sean Magnacca, who plays both Tito and Beppo, moves back and forth between bedrooms as easily as he does between acting the aging, judgmental tenor and the wacky, distracted bellhop. His dialogue with a resident disembodied tongue (don’t ask) is priceless.

The three women in the show, though they play the stock characters of ingenue, wife, and mistress, bring skilled comic timing to their roles and are especially funny in their insistence that all women “have urges.” Morgan Sichler’s Mimi does a fine job of putting the play in motion (as we discover her in flagrante in the first scene) as well as suggesting something of the saucy French milkmaid along the way. Jill Anthony’s Maria bemoans the fact that she has simply become “Mrs. Tito,” but this is belied by her snapping eyes, barely suppressed libido, and provocative Italian accent. And Karen Querns Dupper does a wonderful job of conveying a thoroughly unleashed sexuality, as her Tatiana is inspired at appropriate moments to crow, bark and moo in wanton appreciation.

Max, whose character provides some stability and reason to the madness, mentions Freud at one point, and it is tempting to see French farce as an exercise in libido run wild. The audience, delightedly, is in on all the secrets as one by one each relationship falls prey to suspicions of erotic misbehavior and suffers the comic consequences. But comedy, in its traditional form, requires resolution, and here the fires of sexuality are tempered to a domestic glow as libido is tamed, marriage is celebrated, and new life is both announced and welcomed. The play, having taken us into the wilds of a crowing, barking, mooing sexuality ends by celebrating its biological purpose, and Max is allowed the tender last word.

This play is a delight. For tickets and show times, be sure to call 570-748-8083 or visit www.millbrookplayhouse.org.

For ticket information and reservations, call 570-748-8083 or visit millbrookplayhouse.org.

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Karen Elias lives in Swissdale. She taught English for more than 30 years, most recently at Lock Haven University and Penn College.

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