Review: ‘Out of Order’

Ray Cooney's latest caprice, "Out of Order," is formula giddiness, offering a veritable maze of antic comedy ably provided by the playwright's usual suspects. There is a philandering British Parliament minister (Paxton Whitehead), whose best-laid plans for a cozy tryst with a secretary go hopelessly awry; his gullible and hapless aide (well played by Reno Roop); an aged and ruthlessly enterprising bellhop (Vince O'Brien); a flustered and exasperated hotel manager seemingly transported from "Room Service" (Burt Edwards); three sexually aggressive ladies; and a private detective suffering from amnesia.

Ray Cooney’s latest caprice, “Out of Order,” is formula giddiness, offering a veritable maze of antic comedy ably provided by the playwright’s usual suspects. There is a philandering British Parliament minister (Paxton Whitehead), whose best-laid plans for a cozy tryst with a secretary go hopelessly awry; his gullible and hapless aide (well played by Reno Roop); an aged and ruthlessly enterprising bellhop (Vince O’Brien); a flustered and exasperated hotel manager seemingly transported from “Room Service” (Burt Edwards); three sexually aggressive ladies; and a private detective suffering from amnesia.

Add to this zany assemblage an elusive dead body which pops up in the most surprising places (acted with the limpid grace of a scarecrow by John Seidman), the continuing and resounding echo of doors slamming, a perfectly delightful muddle of mistaken identities, window-ledge madness and a devilishly cunning window frame, which all too frequently hurtles down upon the unsuspecting with the lethal force of a guillotine.

While Cooney’s comedies seldom transfer comfortably to Broadway, they remain a constant joy for tourists in London’s West End. This is the fourth of his plays to be mounted successfully at the Paper Mill Playhouse over the past decade.

The brittle ensemble acting is on target. Whitehead is particularly a master of the form (he previously played the role of Minister Willey at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Cooney’s “Two Into One”). His timing is amazing, with the studied crispness of his hands-on-hips double take reminiscent of Edward Everett Horton. Roop is the ideal foil and fall guy, his sappy and blank-faced resignation saying it all.

Douglas Heap’s design of a smart, but antiseptic hotel suite is airily functional, and Ellis Tillman’s costumes, which run the gamut from silken teddies, garish boxer shorts and bathroom towels, naughtily define the wardrobe of a bedroom farce.

David Warwick’s staging neatly harnesses the panic and behavioral patterns of utter fools, and with the possible exception of a second-act lag, the action sails merrily along.

Out of Order

Production

MILLBURN, N.J. A Paper Mill Playhouse presentation of a Coconut Grove Playhouse production of a comedy in two acts by Ray Cooney. Directed by David Warwick.

Crew

Set, Douglas Heap; costumes, Ellis Tillman; lighting; Martin Aronstein; sound, Steve Shapiro; stage manager; Richard C. Rauscher. Artistic director, Robert Johanson. Opened Jan. 1, 1997, at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Reviewed Jan. 3; 1,200 seats; $ 46 top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

With

Cast: Paxton Whitehead (Richard Willey), Burt Edwards (The Manager), Vince O'Brien (The Waiter), Kay Walbye (Jane Worthington), John Seidman (A Body), Reno Roop (George Pigden), Timothy Wheeler (Ronnie), Delphi Harrington (Pamela), Cristine McMurdo-Wallis (Gladys).
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