'Maynard Dines In' serves up a comic banquet

By JASON WALTERS - SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE

A true theatrical farce is a complicated piece of machinery. It requires countless independent parts to work in concert and relies on precision timing to ensure smooth operation.

Such is the case with "Maynard Dines In," the most recent production in the Manitou Art Theater's 2003-04 season, directed by Eve Tilley and written by Mark (Gazette theater critic) and Lauren Arnest.

The action takes place in the apartment of absent Wall Street broker Morton Mirmelstein, where his personal assistant Gina (Heidi Link) has involved her husband Harold (Brandon Jacobs), a neurotic violist in a struggling philharmonic, in a Machiavellian scheme to provide Harold a bit of job security.

Unfortunately, organizing a benefit for the ill-fated orchestra requires enlisting the help of renowned Russian pianist Yevutslav Rostronitzin (Robert Tiffany), who is reluctant to degrade himself in such a fashion.

Just when plans couldn't get any worse, Morton's bloodthirsty cat, Maynard (having missed his daily Prozac dose), goes missing, and we become witnesses to a disaster involving a priceless work of art, Groucho glasses, several cases of mistaken identity, and a painstakingly prepared dinner that's not quite kosher.

Initially, I felt some resistance to the events unfolding. It wasn't until the first act was well on its way that I surrendered to what is, in reality, a finely crafted comedy.

The success of "Maynard" depends on a bizarre tension among its characters to maintain its comic momentum. The frantic shuffling of characters on and off stage accomplishes this skillfully, for the most part - often to hilarious effect.

Jacobs has a truly melodramatic flair, and is splendidly convincing as the play's whipping boy. We take pleasure in his descent into near madness as the murderous Maynard gradually tears him and his clothing to bits.

Although Link has impressive stage presence and a bright personality, I was unable to buy her as the scheming conspirator Harold is frequently accusing her of being. I don't fault Link for this; it seems her character was shortchanged from the beginning.

Tiffany, although an impressive and entertaining stage presence, never finds consistency in his Russian accent. David Rasmussen, as the missing Morton's one-time lover Max, holds his own without falling too far into stereotypes.

Sue Breeze as Mimi Mirmelstein channels every Jewish mother in the history of stage and screen. She has so much fun in the role that I was able to forget that I've seen her character. Tom Foster Spiers owns the role of Mimi's longsuffering husband, Malcolm, His deadpan delivery gives us the play's most ridiculously hilarious moments.

The intimate Manitou Art Theater is well suited to this production, although its acoustics aren't great. Dialogue on stage is easily lost in the slightest noise from the audience.

At times, the dialogue seemed rushed, and as a consequence, more than a few lines were stumbled over. And though not as strong as it could have been, the farce's effect wasn't lost, even when two actors broke character to chuckle at an amusing moment.

"Maynard Dines In" is populated by stock characters; however, Tilley and the Arnests have managed to use them in such a precise yet slapdash maze of comic conspiracy that they appear new to us. This is where its success lies.

THE DETAILS

Maynard Dines In - When: 8 p.m. today-Saturday - Where: Venue 515, Business of Art Center, 515 Manitou Ave. - Admission: $12.50; 685-1861.

(From the Colorado Springs Gazette, January 30, 2004. Reprinted without permission and in violation of all known copyright laws.)

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