Out of Order_09

Joe Rich and Ashley Harmon in the the MMAS production of “Out of Order.” (Photo by Laura Gustafson)

MANSFIELD — Bill Roberts and Joe Rich team up to push things to their madcap limit in the Mansfield Music and Arts Society’s season opener, “Out of Order.”

Roberts and Rich play off each other in outbursts so well rehearsed that they appear flawlessly spontaneous. Once their dialog began on opening night last weekend, the audience and this reviewer just couldn’t stop laughing. It’s a must-see if you’re looking for comic relief.

The plot of British playwright Ray Cooney’s comedy begins in modern-day London in Room 648 of the fictional Westminster Hotel. Roberts plays Conservative Party Junior Minister Richard Willey who has booked a hotel room, supposedly so he can participate in an all-night debate in nearby Parliament. His real intention is a tryst with the young secretary of a Labour Party rival, Jane Worthington, played by Jessica Rogers in a red negligee.

When Jane opens the curtains to see the view, she discovers an apparently dead man whose neck is caught in the window, which seems to have fallen like a guillotine as he tried to climb in from the balcony. She wants to call the police, but Willey intervenes to avoid a scandal.

Willey calls his personal secretary, George Pigden (played by Rich), to help dispose of the body. Kudos to Rich, whose impeccable demeanor and classic comic timing make the most of every line as his character argues with Willey over what to do next. Rich’s consistent energy and drive take his interaction with Roberts step by hilarious step in Act 1, and then goes above and beyond in Act 2 as he tries to save the day.

Steve Walton plays Jane’s husband, Ronnie Worthington, and his over-the-top delivery as he bursts into the hotel room raises the stakes for everyone else hiding in the closet, on the balcony, or in the bedroom. Walton is impressive in Act 2 as well when he charges in after searching the hotel swimming pool for his wife’s supposed lover.

Six more characters keep the comic plot twisting throughout. The manager is played by Marianne Phinney, who vacillates convincingly between calling security and avoiding bad press for the hotel. Francis Sheehan plays Cromwell, the waiter, a sloppy, greedy tip-hound who does his best to accommodate every room service request, for a price. Liz Eacmen plays Maria, the maid, whose final entrance in Act 2 is worth the wait.

Ashley Harmon is cast in the role of Willey’s wife Pamela, who’s quick to go from a svelte dress to a seductive black negligee as complications increase. With a genuine British accent, Heather Carey plays persistent nurse Gladys Foster, who has been calling all night to see why Pigden hasn’t come home to his ill mother.

Dan Powers plays Jack Baker, the private detective who brings all the mayhem to an end with his observations and revelations.

The opening night audience gave the show a standing ovation.

“Out of Order” runs through Sept. 24 at the MMAS Black Box Theater, 377 North Main St., Mansfield. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $29 for weekends, $25 for Thursday shows. (www.mmas.org, 508-339-2822)

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