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2nd Star Productions’ It Runs in the Family

Laugh your way out of winter with this play

The British have been stereotyped as stodgy. The truth is that they are quite bawdy and irreverent. The plays of Ray Cooney — including It Runs in the Family, now playing at 2nd Star Productions — are typical British humor.
    The British love a farce where nothing is sacred or above ridicule. In It Runs in the Family that includes the clergy, police, doctors and matrimony. “If you tell a lie, make it a whopper,” an actors says in words that could be this play’s subtext.
    Self-absorbed neurologist Dr. David Mortimer’s preparations for a keynote speech at a major conference are interrupted by the appearance of a nurse he has not seen since their affair ended 18 years ago. She has news: They have a son who wants to meet him — now.
    To avoid the boy and a situation that threatens his career and marriage, Dr. Mortimer starts with a small lie, adds to it and cons his friend Dr. Hubert Bonney into playing along. From there, everything spirals into a wider and wilder mess. Other hospital staff, Mortimer’s wife, a police sergeant and an elderly patient are drawn into the sphere of lies. Chaos ensues.
    Farces like It Runs in the Family work best when the actors play it broadly (think Groucho Marx or Jerry Lewis). Enough of the actors in this production do so, and that makes the show succeed. Fred Nelson’s Dr. Mortimer mugs when needed, shows the panic of a man desperately trying to keep his lies plausible and has the energy to sustain the rapid-fire pacing.
    Gene Valendo’s Dr. Bonney has some show-stopping moments with impromptu musical numbers and a turn in drag. Mary Retort-George’s Matron reminds me of Margaret Dumont in the Marx Brothers’ comedies. In the second act, she is matched by Marty Hayes as a doddering patient, Bill Leslie. The rest of the cast could ratchet up their characters and not be out of place.
    Farce fails if the timing isn’t brisk, and Director Jane B. Wingard keeps the tempo right. Some actors’ stiffness is balanced by a few who are quite ingenious.
    The proof of the show’s success is the audience reaction. Opening night’s audience howled and shrieked with laughter.

It Runs in the Family plays thru March 9. Th-Sa 8pm; Su March 3 3pm at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Dr., Bowie. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700;