The Walworth Farce
New City Theater, 1404 18th Ave., 271-4430, wearenctc.org. $20–$30. 8 p.m. Wed.–Sun. Ends Oct. 27.
Twenty minutes into New Century Theatre Company’s production of The Walworth Farce, it looks like things might devolve into shapeless absurdity. But as it slowly unwinds, the ridiculousness begins to make sense. And the more sense it makes, the more terrifying the play becomes. In a distressed London flat, Dinny (Peter Crook) and his adult sons Sean (Darragh Kennan) and Blake (Peter Dylan O’Connor) are engaged in their daily performance of the titular farce. It’s a zany comedy of errors, triggered by the wake of a family matriarch, executed with wigs, a mustache, and a couple of cardboard caskets. If someone misses a line, the play-within-the-play halts for Dinny to berate his boys’ lackluster performance. The sons try again, and the farce resumes at a frantic pace, the little family—or rather the actors playing the family—executing a complex litany of gags for big laughs.
But those laughs are uneasy; there’s an ominous undercurrent to this 2006 work by Irish playwright Enda Walsh. During each interruption, we gradually learn why Sean and Blake have been kept close to the nest by a father who fears outsiders. When one of those outsiders, Hayley (Allison Strickland), makes an unexpected house call, the dark origin of the family’s ritual performance is revealed.
Still, this is a farce, expertly directed by John Kazanjian, that never succumbs to the darkness. And the NCTC cast lands every beat. Crook in particular is a tempest of focused energy, both hilarious in his secondary role—the scheming son at his mother’s wake—and chilling in his primary role as the fear-mongering stage father Dinny.
This isn’t an easy play to pull off anywhere, and the tiny New City Theater space presents a challenge for a production requiring multiple areas of audience focus. Yet Kazanjian turns that spatial liability into a strength. The two-act play was originally written for a proscenium, with all the action in a single enclosure. Here we look past trembling Hayley, trapped in the downstage kitchen, to see the shenanigans upstage. The farce is endlessly amusing, but it’s also framed with fear.