ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES
nytheatre.com review by Terri Galvin
August 11, 2007
You can tell from the first shaken-not-stirred cocktail that Roll with the Punches could never be set in our boring new millennium. Why, if a prominent society figure were to suffer from "hysterical paralysis" today, not only would there be some obvious pharmaceutical solution, but Dr. Phil would simply scold her sorry legs into self-empowering re-animation.
And just where, may I ask, is the fun in that?
But Garet Scott has set her comic melodrama in a "simpler time," a time when a brilliant surgeon might play doctor with all the nurses, but his ornamental wife is condemned to "raise the children" and be a perfect hostess. But how can poor, crippled Susan Evans attend to her children when they keep running up those infernal, wheelchair-inaccessible stairs? And surely, society galas are not an option once one's dancing legs have gone all atrophied and floppy. And, yes, Dr. Evans (he of the perpetually lipstick-smeared collar) might be a "cad" and "bounder," but, still, Susan has very nearly forgiven him the philandering that caused her oh-so-gruesome carousel accident in the first place. ("Trampled beneath a sea of wooden hooves!" Shud-der!) Oh, if only she could walk again—to be the mother she used to be, to mix a proper martini again, to spare her husband the ignominy of being (gasp!) "The World-Famous Neuro-Surgeon Who Cannot Cure His Own Wife's Paralysis."
Enter beautiful British nanny Penelope Raintree who, beneath her pristine surface, looks as if she could finish off long-suffering Susan for lunch—and then, of course, feast on a delectable serving of the handsome Dr. Evans for dessert. Nanny Penny, however, even with two fully functioning, finely shaped gams, has her work cut out for her. Little Millicent, a.k.a. "Princess," has been caught in the stable with a neighborhood boy, doing something unmentionable with a riding crop. And aspiring gourmet chef/evening-gown-designer son Marshall keeps getting mistaken for a punching bag by those Neanderthal bullies at school. Oh, and then there's the recalcitrant Irish maid, Nellie, whose surly insubordination is surpassed only by the enormity of her gravity-challenged bosom.
Well, dear reader, I'm sure you can imagine what happens next, (a wheelchair, a steep San Francisco hill, ... Who could have known?!!), but that shouldn't stop you from seeing this engagingly over-the-top spoof. How else to find out whether the Coast Guard ever finds the body? Or if the new Mrs. Evans's decidedly non-debutante past will be revealed? Or just why the aroma of freshly baked soufflé keeps wafting through the house, even after Marshall's exile to Camp Ramrod Military Academy? The twists! The turns! The mistaken identities and thrilling revelations! All this (and more!) brought to delightful life by a clever cast clearly committed to the corny campiness of it all. (Sorry, but the tongue-in-cheekiness is completely contagious.)
Such escapist, antic fun is the perfect antidote to those twin banes of August: soaring humidity and fringe shows taking themselves far too seriously. The writing is witty and quick, and Scott (who, as Penny, oozes cunning malice from every pretty pore) is fortunate to have other actors and a director, Kevin Thomsen, who so obviously share her slightly ridiculous sensibility. The oversized double-takes, the sly asides, the exaggerated gasps, the June Taylor-esque choreography—who needs dreary old naturalism when there's scenery to chew and naughty subtext to telegraph? I swear, if I'd had this much fun as an actor, I'd never have taken up a pen all those years ago.
Which, come to think of it, rather makes me yearn (cue trembling lower lip, lingering sigh) for a "simpler time" myself. (Fade to black on our fearless reviewer's look of tragic, inexpressible longing as background music swells.)