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Fast-Paced Farce

Theater Review

Mar. 24, 2009
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It's the early 1970s and Jo and Stephen are hosting a dinner party. It will last just over an hour and the only people who will be in the dining room the whole time are the people in the audience, as this is Renaissance Theaterworks' production of Barney & Bee, a fast-paced farce written by Noises Off! author Michael Frayn, directed by Tami Workentin and starring Laura Gray and Norman Moses.

The comedy's central conflict is introduced early on, when Jo and Stephen discover that they've invited both Barney and Bee to the party-an estranged couple who don't get along. In addition to playing Jo and Stephen, Gray and Moses play Barney and Bee. Gray also makes an appearance as Bee's young, hippie boyfriend Alex. The two actors hold down opposite ends of the quick-change comedy quite well. Moses is energetic and exaggerated, playing the physical end of the comedy, while Gray brilliantly handles the subtler end, which is particularly fun to watch. She manages some strikingly comic moments, with minute physical punctuations and voice inflections.

As fun as Gray and Moses are, however, the play feels dated. Originally written in 1970 under the title Chinamen, Frayn's fairly uninspired farce (which served as the inspiration for Noises Off!) does little more than juxtapose flat stereotypes against each other, set things in motion and let them run around for an hour. Given the script, it is to the credit of Moses, Gray and Workentin that there are only a few lifeless moments in the show.

Renaissance Theaterworks' production of Barney & Bee runs now through April 12 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Studio Theatre.


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