I haven’t seen a really good on-stage comedy in a while, so when I heard about No Tea Production’s latest show called Poppycock (written and directed by Jeremy Mather) playing at Under Saint Marks I can definitely say I was excited to see what the evening had in store.
With a title like “Poppycock” I was ready for something silly – how could I not be? And in that respect, Poppycock delivers. It does take a little while to get cooking though, so I suggest you sit back and let the show warm up first – a little like Jiffypop (or, you know, to coin a phrase . . . JiffyPoppycock). The story is both simple enough to follow while still being wildly far fetched and ludicrous enough to evoke laughter.
We first come upon The Diamond Flush Bed and Breakfast during a moment of confusion for current owner Frederick Theodore Pool (James Patrick Cronin), he’s got too much on his mind and too little time to handle everything, including how to save his B&B from landing into the hands of his arch nemesis and old best friend, Barney Crump (Jeff Sproul). While he’s busy trying to hatch a plan his mute Jill-of-all-Trades / Handy-gal Claudia (Alicia Barnatchez) is puttering around the B&B employing sign language devolved from the School of Harpo Marx in order to get her point across – which she does, effortlessly.
Enter the Gaiser Sisters: Hailey (Sabrina Farhi) and Poppy (Michele McNally) with Hailey’s boyfriend Howard (James Richard) in tow. They’ve blown a tire down the road (why, it’s almost as if someone planted nails in the road intentionally in order to draw business to their out of the way bed and breakfast . . . ) and need a place to stay. Though Fred does what he can to discourage them from staying, they hunker down for the night anyway.
Through a series of incidents, amusingly told flashbacks, and other well-executed devices the delightfully convoluted plot rolls on and we’re treated to a mash-up that plays like a bit of Three’s Company set in the sleepy setting of the old Newhart Show digs – minus the Darryls. As the plot got more farcical and the actors settled more into the play, I found myself laughing out loud a lot more that I’d done in a long time.
By the time a mysterious visitor (Daiva Deupree) arrives on the scene, the audience is so ready to accept her broad comical style that what would seem like a caricature in another play comes off as a delightful send-up of all the bridge and tunnel gals who keep the economy going by shopping for clothes at Strawberry’s, accessorizing with Claire’s Accessories, and splurging on girl’s night out at Tequilaville. If you didn’t go to school with someone just like this gal, then you’re working down the hall from her now. I couldn’t get enough.
Special mention to Jeff Sproul who used just the right verbal and visual hooks to make Barney Crump a memorable and lively character. His scenes brought the play to another level and he delivered some of the best lines of the show with superb timing. Also, Alicia Barnatchez brought Claudia to life in a way that perfectly illustrated her range; she drew some of the biggest laughs without saying a word and was able to compete with the rest of the ensemble who had great one liners to work with. She not only held her own, but completely told us everything we needed to know about Claudia through body language alone. The character of Claudia also showed that while writer/director Jeremy Mather knows how to write a funny line for his characters, he’s also great at creating a complex and complete character who must rely purely on physical comedy to bring home the laughs.
Eventually when the whole story wraps up, it does so nicely, and with no deep meaning or earth-changing message - and who would want it to? I came for the laughs and I got what I came for.
~~~POPPYCOCK Presented by Horse Trade Theater Group and No Tea Productions UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave and Ave A) April 8-24, Thursday through Saturday at 8pm. Tickets ($15) are available by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or online at www.horseTRADE.info