Dynamic cast shines in modern play
Playwright and producer Ralph Tropfâs latest play The Animal Within is a farce to be reckoned with. The romp features sexy plotlines, quirky characters and a beach house in which several sexual misadventures occur. The production certainly has its flaws regarding writing and certain plot twists; nonetheless, it maintains an entertaining air of energy and spark.
The play takes place in a beachside California mansion, in which married couple Robert (Nathan Bouldin) and Sylvia Argus (Carrie Madsen) reside. Of course, their vanilla lifestyle is shaken up when Sylvia decides to hire young, sexually curious live-in housekeeper Melody (Howland Wilson) against Robertâs wishes. Melodyâs carefree presence reawakens Sylviaâs suppressed attraction to women and begins the 90-minute farce, complete with slamming doors, misunderstandings and sexual deviance among all three parties.
These comical misadventures come to life under the guidance of director Lynn Stevenson, who consistently excites audiences with wise directorial choices. Stevenson cleverly stages the play in such a way that there is always a character coming or going, creating suspense and dramatic tension. Moreover, Stevenson makes expert use of her minimalist, three-person cast, keeping the audience entertained with the castâs dynamics.
Stevenson also takes advantage of the set. Having three doors for entrances and exits lends itself perfectly to the satirical nature of this play â slamming doors being the trademark of any good farce.
On that humorous note, Stevenson makes many other classical comedic stops.Â For instance, Robert nearly catches Sylvia and Melody in a compromising situation three times in a row and is still oblivious. Each time Robert enters, Sylvia and Melody are engaged in displays of affection and must quickly separate and act aloof as he enters the room. This is only one of many examples of sharp comedy in the play.
As evidenced from the strength of the dynamics and the clever use of comedy, the script is clearly in deft hands with Tropf.
The play starts off strong, immediately introducing the conflict and operating on a solid premise created by Tropf; a woman begins having an affair with her sexy live-in housekeeper; and her husband soon follows suit.
The first half of the play is consistent in its sexy, fun and outright hilarious tone, delivering a steady stream of jokes balanced with a captivating conflict. Airy naĂŻve Melody is the perfect foil to the uptight Sylvia who is trapped in a stale marriage.
This initial strength in the playâs tone, however, does not extend throughout the show, as there are some major missteps in the latter half of the piece.
The second half makes the characters seem one-dimensional as Robert and Sylvia argue. As a result, the ending of the play also takes a turn for the worst when the characters succumb to complete chaos.
Yet these blunders can be forgiven because of the playâs initial strength and the charismatic, likeable cast.
Wilson, for example, skillfully portrays the impulsive, dim-witted yet likable Melody, whose lack of real world knowledge could have easily come off as irksome and unlikable in the hands of a less skilled actress. In fact, the most interesting scenes involved or revolved around Wilson and her sexuality.
Madsen also creates a vivid character, struggling with outward appearances and inner secrets. Madsen strikes a balance between the strong, domineering aspect of her character and the characterâs inner wild side.
Bouldin is the weaker link in an all-around strong cast, as his character comes off as either too wimpy or too crazy to be likable. Most problems with Bouldinâs character Robert, however, likely come from the erratic script.Â Robert starts off a spineless man and ends up a crazed one.
Despite this minor flaw, the cast enhances the humor and strength of the script.
The Animal Within, nevertheless, provides steady laughs throughout. Its main fault is the chaos that ensues toward the end, which is preferable, however, to a play that bores. The nimble direction, combined with funny writing and a standout cast, make this farce worth seeing.
The Animal Within runs through Dec. 18 at the Elephant Theatre.