‘Farce’ Things First: Guild launches new year with a comedy

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Director Jeff Bartos (right) of Dearborn watches cast members Kate McClaine (left) of Detroit as Jessica, Lindel Salow of Dearborn as Pete and Matt Ripper of Livonia as George rehearse a scene from “First Things First” at the Players Guild of Dearborn. The British farce follows what happens when a man’s first wife, thought dead, returns to her husband, who has remarried. The show opens Jan. 11 and runs for three weekends. For more information call 313-561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

By Sue Suchyta
What would you do if your first spouse – who you thought was dead – reappeared after you had remarried?

Pete faces this dilemma when his first wife, Jessica, suddenly reappears. Pete and his twice-best man George try to keep this upsetting news from his current and second wife Sarah and her powerful mother.

The show, The Players Guild of Dearborn’s “First Things First,” by Derek Benfield, will run for three weekends – Jan. 11 to 13, 18 to 20 and 25 to 27, with Jeff Bartos directing.

For tickets or more information, call 313-561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

Bartos said that for him, British farce is the highest form of comedy. He said he cut his teeth on “Monty Python,” and “Fawlty Towers,” and as he got older he watched “Are you Being Served,” “One Foot in the Grave” and his favorite, “Keeping Up Appearances.”

He said that when he was in Korea teaching English for seven years, from 2003 to 2010, he was always eager to get his hands on anything related to English culture, and he bought the script to “First Things First” in the biggest bookstore in Seoul with a bunch of other scripts. When he heard last spring that the Guild was doing the show, he applied to direct it.

Bartos expects audiences to enjoy the interaction of all six characters.

“Each one somehow has a relationship with the others with the possible exception of the Frenchman at the end of Act II,” Bartos said. “The only one who knows him is Jessica, and that is where everything just unravels.”

He said the refreshing thing for audiences is that they expect a farce to have a lot of physical comedy, and in this show, the comedy comes from the lines and the interaction of the actors.

“I have four leads and two more-than-featured (parts), but they’re all integral to the plot,” Bartos said. “It’s two hours in the lives of these six people and this one conundrum that they have. George comes right out and says, ‘Hey, your first wife’s alive,’ and then we’re off to the races.”

He said at some point Pete, and then Jessica, start to unravel, but then it all comes to a very funny ending.

“We could have sold tickets at auditions,” Bartos said. “We had 27, 28 brilliant people audition, and it was just overwhelming for me to pick six of these people and put them on the stage.”

He said he expects there to be points of high hilarity when the audience will be rolling on the floor.

Matt Ripper of Livonia, who plays George, the twice-best man, said he is the loyal best friend who is more fool than wise.

“He’s more impulse, and I think he likes to please, and so he’ll say pretty much anything he can to please,” Ripper said.

He said it has been at least three years since he has been on the Guild stage, because he and his wife have had two children and he’s been busy with that while also starting a new career.

“I’ve been very busy rearranging my life, but very happy to be back on stage,” Ripper said.

He said his love of British farce made the play appealing to him.

“I love the high humor, I love the levels to the humor,” Ripper said. “I think that’s the most interesting thing. There is subtle, then there is overt and there is just common misinterpretation. Somebody said something but somebody did not hear it correctly, or they heard it differently. So I just like the varying levels of humor in comedy farces.”

He said he also finds them quite challenging, because to sell a British farce there has to be a very quick repartee, it has to flow quickly and it has to flow regularly without many pauses.

“So for me it’s partly challenge, but primarily I just love the genre, so it’s been one of those things I seek out,” Ripper said.

Kate McClaine, who plays Jessica, is in the Detroit area for the first time since she was a young child. She is new to the Guild, and discovered the auditions while on the Internet when she said she “needed a theater fix.”

She said the play is like an ideal situation comedy.

“There’s just enough misunderstanding and just enough gentle play that nobody really knows who is serious and who is not for long enough until it all comes to a screeching head, and it’s just hilarious from beginning to end,” McClaine said.

Her gift for dialect and mimicry has given her an opportunity to be involved in movies, stage and television and she said she has done as much onstage work as backstage work.

She said “First Things First” is the greatest fun.

“If you like watching prime time funny TV, it’s the same kind of thing, only it is people you know,” McClaine said. “And there’s nothing better than a good laugh.”

Lindell Salow, who plays Pete, wanted to do the show when he discovered it while on the script committee. He said he loves British comedy and it is funny.

He said his character, who has mentally put his first wife to rest, is six months into a new marriage with Sarah when his first wife reappears very much alive.

“Unintentional bigamy occurs here,” Salow said. “And it’s in a humorous vein. All Pete is trying to do is sort everything out.”

He said the whole show is fun.

“A series of misunderstandings, miscommunications and we’ll keep them laughing from curtain up to curtain down,” Salow said.

He said the play has more of a cerebral take to it, and the humor comes from the lines – holding the mirror up to one’s self and exaggerating.

He said he is telling friends to see the show because it is fun and will keep them laughing from start to finish.