Scramble!

Auds are traditionally forgiving when it comes to sex farces, especially if they're presented as hot-weather trifles, are set in simpler times and sport British accents. But even those looking for silly summer titillation will find David Wiltse's "Scramble!" hard to take with its desperate pacing, pushy perfs and puerile humor.

With:
Johnson - Tom Beckett Sam - Candy Buckley Jane - Rebecca Harris Otis - Colin McPhillamy Temple - Jennifer Mudge Carter - Matthew Rauch

Auds are traditionally forgiving when it comes to sex farces, especially if they’re presented as hot-weather trifles, are set in simpler times and sport British accents. But even those looking for silly summer titillation will find David Wiltse’s “Scramble!” hard to take with its desperate pacing, pushy perfs and puerile humor. Previously presented as “Hatchetman” at Florida Stage, play gets another go-round at the Westport Country Playhouse where house scribe Wiltse preemed his deft “A Marriage Minuet” two years ago. But in trying his hand at this in extremis comedy, Wiltse’s craft fails him, and the production brings more cringes than chuckles.

Dialogue is peppered with talk of dildos, proctologists and castrations, displaying horny adolescent crudeness instead of wit. “Logic doesn’t matter in comedy,” says a character in the play. “Speed is what counts.”

How wrong he is. For farce to work well, there has to be an initial sense of logic — or at least a smidgen of believability — in the characters, story and setting, otherwise the inevitable, increasingly exaggerated turns have little comic impact.

But “Scramble!” is scrambled with speed and little else. Play starts frenzied in its garishly painted office setting as the deadline approaches for a local golf magazine’s next publication. “Frenzy” and “golf” are two words that do not naturally go together, but there is little natural here as writers and editors dash about.

Each character has a singular purpose and comic tic. There’s curvaceous writer Temple (Jennifer Mudge), who is allergic to flowers; hack co-worker Carter (Matthew Rauch), who is perpetually lusting after Temple; plain Jane (Rebecca Harris), who gets chronically tongue-tied around Carter; bitch of an editor Sam (Candy Buckley), who is sexually voracious; and office hanger-on Otis (Colin McPhillamy), who is forever searching for the right word.

Into this group comes new employee Johnson (Tom Beckett), a forlorn little man with a stammer that’s only alleviated when he goes into song and dance. But while Johnson is believed to be a corporate infiltrator there to make recommendations to reduce the staff, his status at the office changes with everyone pathologically courting his favors. There are mistaken identities, double entendres and lots of door slamming, but to little effect. Even the accidental orgy is comedically limp.

Movement coach (Mark Olsen) trumps helmer (Tracy Brigden) as the cast works up a sweat but little else. Play-it-out-to-the-house deliveries veer everything not so much toward farce but toward rather bad burlesque. Only the relatively less frantic McPhillamy as a dithering Brit manages to be amusing.

Scramble!

Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, Conn.; 575 seats; $55 top

Production: A Westport Country Playhouse presentation of a play in two acts by David Wiltse. Directed by Tracy Brigden.

Creative: Sets, Jeff Cowie; costumes, Ilona Somogyi; lighting, Ben Stanton; sound, Eric Shim; movement coach, Mark Olsen; production stage manager, Cole P. Bonenberger. Opened July 12, 2008. Reviewed July 15. Runs though July 26. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Johnson - Tom Beckett Sam - Candy Buckley Jane - Rebecca Harris Otis - Colin McPhillamy Temple - Jennifer Mudge Carter - Matthew Rauch

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