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2005-04-11 - 8:47 a.m.

Paul Newman & Robert Redford Watch Out!

An old man, dressed in the clapping hands BRT tee shirt under a blazer, limped onto the Berkeley Repertory Theatre yesterday afternoon with assistance from one of the ushers. He allayed our fears, “I’m not here to tell you to turn off your cell phones and open your cellophane wrapped candies now.” And about that time, a cell phone tune began to chime. Of course, it was his. This was Geoff Hoyle at his best. He commended the sponsors of the play, and then chatted on for several minutes, winking at the audience now and then as he explained how valuable the BRT membership is and explained that everything on the stage would be auctioned off, even the gargantuan replica of the Eiffel Tower. All by way of introducing his translation and adaptation of Georges Feydeau’s farce, For Better or Worse, directed by David Ira Goldstein, and playing through April 24th on the Thrust Stage.

Moments later, of course, Geoff transformed the “old man” by donning a smoking jacket into the husband of a most pregnant wife, in labor a month early with their first child. The play has all the components of the classic farce: the unhinged husband, his wife, a constipated brat, a military contract for unbreakable chamber pots, the potential contractee, his wife, and her lover, as well as a pert, but not too bright, maid.

But wait! That’s not even the best part. After the first act, Geoff again in his old man outfit gives a mini-lecture about “door slammers”, as this type of farce is known to professionals. A young man, ostensibly only recently arrived from Paris (notice the replica of the Eiffel Tower that towers over the stage), brings out a door and holds it. Geoff explains that we are not to notice him – he is an invisible “hinge.”

Then he asks those in the audience who are members to raise their hands. A fair number appeared to be subscribers. Geoff then says, “On rare occasions, subscribers have the opportunity to stand on the stage of BRT. Today is one of those days.” He is clearly acting as though he is an old codger subscriber who is having one of those rare opportunities. He points down into the second row center at a young woman in a black and white striped sweater and invites her to use the step to climb up on the stage.

And then he turns to our row and points directly at my husband, Ed, comments on his nice smile, and invites him to join them on the stage. Ed climbed over the two ladies at the end of the row and walked toward the stage. “If you’re feeling athletic, you can just leap up or you can go down there to the step,” Geoff quipped. Ed did the leaping up bit to applause from the audience. It’s a pretty gray-haired audience on Sunday afternoons, so his having the ability to “leap up” seemed commendable.

Now the purpose of this exercise became quite clear. “Since this door with the invisible ‘hinge’ can’t possibly slam, we have a smaller version,” he said, at which point an usher brought forth a small replica of a door, which COULD slam, and Geoff invited an elderly gentleman from the first row to come forward to be the door slammer.

Geoff hands Ed and the woman their scripts – very small cards, which they could palm in their hands. He then hands out the costumes – a translucent pink negligee, which the woman holds up in front of her and the ugliest black and green plaid trousers, which Ed holds up in front of his own black ones. “Now, let’s have a little rehearsal,” Geoff says, again winking and mugging toward the audience with a bit of a typical Geoff Hoyle bow. “Now, you’re just to imagine these two are nude beneath their costumes.”

They go behind the door in the middle of the stage, which is being held by the Frenchman, whom “we can’t see.” Geoff makes some comment to him and he says, “OUI” that sounded more like “WE!” The two ‘actors’ are guided behind the door for a rehearsal. The woman is first – she walks through the open space BY the door, as opposed to THROUGH the door. Geoff ad libs for five minutes about that error and how she must go THROUGH the door and slam it behind her, at which time the gentleman at the replica door will SLAM the door, creating the noise for the scene. Then ED is to follow her through the door, SLAMMING it behind him, and the gentleman door slammer will…well, you get the picture.

So they try it again…this time the woman goes through the door, slams it, the gentleman creates the noise of the slam, etc. When Ed gets on stage, Geoff instructs him to look out at the audience, not at the woman. The woman, holding the negligee in front of her is now instructed to be shocked at seeing Ed, say her one line, and drop her negligee. He reminds the audience that she is now nude, and that she should cover herself in embarrassment. She says her one line – “Victor,” but is then reminded this is a French farce, so she says, “Victoire,” to hoots from the audience.

So, now, "You must cover yourself," Geoff instructs. So, of course, she does…both arms, covering her breasts. Geoff is quick to point out that she is fully unclothed, so she now moves one arm to her right shoulder and the other to her left thigh. Never missing a beat, Geoff says, “Now she’s covered all the important parts – her shoulder and her thigh.” The audience is in an uproar at this point. This is a lot funnier than the play!

Geoff instructs Ed to now look over at the woman, say his line, but get so excited that he drops his pants, and covers himself. Well, Ed didn’t have any trouble figuring out where to put his hands, but Geoff prodded him to acknowledge that his hands probably wouldn’t be quite so close, aroused as he must be, so Ed put them out a bit further...and then when Geoff looked askance, a bit further out, at which point Geoff said, “If it lasts longer than four hours…!” I’m hysterical. Tears run down my cheeks.

At intermission, our friend Linda Brandenburger from Sacramento came over from across the theatre to ask Ed to sign her program. He did – “Victor!” She said, “I almost didn’t come today. I wouldn’t have missed this. But I couldn’t decide which was more fun to watch – the stage or Joan, who was laughing so hard.”

People kept asking if the participants had been planted in the audience. Others suggested Ed would be up for a Tony. I just say watch out Paul Newman and Robert Redford - here comes Ed!

I’m still laughing. Where was my camera?

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