Some of the most engaging, astonishing, poignant, intelligent and life-changing plays I’ve seen have been produced at Rover Dramawerks. This is not hyperbole. One of Rover’s marvelous features is their mission statement to seek out plays that (for one reason or another) are off the grid. Like any conscientious, enthusiastic, hungry contemporary theatre seeking to break new ground, they take risks, they don’t settle for the cozy or comfortable. They put themselves out there. They take chances.
I suppose it must be obvious from the title : “When Did You Last See Your Trousers?” that co-writers Ray Galton and John Antrobus were not aiming to craft a crushing, traumatic tragedy. It’s not the sort of question you’d ask Willy Loman, Tom Wingfield or Macbeth, is it? Howard Swerling awakes next to Penny, his paramour, only to discover some burglar has absconded with his suit as well as assorted other treasures. Seeing as how he cannot return to his wife in his boxer shorts, he calls his friend Captain Webber and Penny calls her ex-boyfriend Jimmy to supply accoutrements. Webber’svoicemail answers the call and Jimmy’s jeans are too small for Howard’s tall, robust physique. While Penny and Howard are still trying to figure out a solution to the pants quandry,Jimmy returns with Tove’, a sybaritic siren from the Netherlands. I think. She is voluptuous, emancipated, and bearing a bag of mince tarts with hash. Howard decides he will use the building ledge to steal some trousers from another bloke who’s on vacation with his wife.
The longer I review theatre the more I am baffled and beguiled by the chemistry of comedy. While farce usually has more to do with plot than content, if managed correctly, it can be raucous and merry.There are so many elements to successful comedy : context, timing, pacing, casting, physicality, language. Consider how little actually “happens” in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. And yet it can be blissfully comic. Avenue Q is a spoof that explores a “grown-up” version of Sesame Street. It’s blue and perverse and verges on utter tastelessness, yet we can’t keep from laughing. Christopher Durang’s Titanic is a warped fable in which the lead characters sink into utter degeneracy as the famous ocean liner goes down for the last time. Demented but inspired. And incredibly funny.
When Did You Last…is frantic, histrionic, chaotic pleasure, it shakes and rattles and staves off the final meltdown as long as it can. As Howard’s search continues, other characters appear, the situation deteriorates, all appearances of sanity and order evaporate. Howard is a gyrating, blustery, frustrated mess, and it only gets worse. In a fairly brilliant turn, he seeks refuge by disguising himself in hilarious, ridiculous drag. “Margo” is flirtatious, melodramatic and saucy. It’s a relief to see this show take an excursion into some leisurely shtick, as we wait to see if Howard (like Dorothy Gale) will ever see his home again. There’s lots of slapstick and ingenuity. No character in this comedy does anything the easy way (not even the charming Tove’) and we never know what will happen next. You could make a case for this piece being a jab at bourgeoise hypocrisy or sexual freedom. I’m not sure. But it’s a harmless, dizzy romp, the actors share with boundless energy. Whew!
Rover Dramawerks presents : When Did You Last See Your Trousers? Playing March 31st-April 23rd, 2016. 221 West Parker Road, Suite 580, Plano, Texas 75023. 972-849-0358. www.roverdramawerks.com