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Too Many Cooks … spoil the audience

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 Thom Smith and Dan Holt cook up some laughs.
Thom Smith and Dan Holt cook up some laughs.

A rule of thumb in the theatre is that each page of script requires about an hour of rehearsal. For a typical 80-page script, that works out to … quite a lot of hours. It is often observed that farce is the trickiest kind of comedy, and for the Elmira Theatre Company’s production of Too Many Cooks, director Mary Ann Kennedy is putting all of those 80-ish hours to use.

“You can do a fluffy comedy, but I like to do a comedy that challenges,” says Kennedy. “As long as you’re working towards something, let’s put some challenges forth.”

She continues, “One of the key things with [playwrites] Marcia Kash and Doug Hughes is their incorporation of props. A lot of comedy is very funny because of the words and physical actions, but added to that are the manipulations of the props. It has been really, really challenging for the actors. … What you need to do is come and see the play and figure out where those challenges are. As you watch the play, think, Oh my gosh, look how they did that.”

Too Many Cooks takes place in 1932, in the waning days of Prohibition, at a rum-running operation in Niagara Falls. The owner is hoping to open a gourmet restaurant, but finds himself dealing with a stern Mountie, an immigration officer, a gangster, and a singing waiter who won’t show. Various farcical shenanigans ensue, with much in the way of door-slamming.

“Timing is absolutely crucial,” says Kennedy. “There are always at least six doors on set, and this set had two swinging doors so that people go in one side and out the other. Almost always, somebody’s going in while another person’s coming out, and I have two sets of those doors.

“The timing is absolutely crucial – if one person’s going out and the other’s coming in, the person coming in should not see the person going out.”

A play with such complicated logistics requires actors who can keep up. Kennedy says that the eight-person ensemble is “a dream cast.”

“I have been really lucky, or else Elmira is just producing a lot of talent,” she says. “I have six men and two women, and they’ve been so dedicated to the task. A couple of them have had bronchitis, but that doesn’t keep them away from rehearsal – there they are.”

She continues, “In community theatre, the standard can be even higher than professional, in that you spend more time with your cast. In professional theatre they prepare for two week – it’s two weeks of eight-hour days, but in community theatre, the rapport that you see onstage has been developed over time. For me, it’s more real.”

Kennedy has directed more than 20 plays, but this marks her debut at the Elmira Theatre Company. Two years ago she was living with an Oceanside view on Vancouver Island when she made the trek to Waterloo to be near her grandchildren.

“I lived in Sarnia before I moved to Vancouver Island. A lot of the community theatre people in Sarnia know the Elmira people, and were able to kind of vouch for me, and say, ‘Oh yeah, she directs, this is what she’s all about.’”

Thus far, she has nothing but praise for the local company – indeed, she’ll be returning next season to direct the irresistible-sounding Menopause: The Musical. “It’s always difficult to break into a new group, because they don’t know you … but Elmira is a wonderful group,” she says.

“I think it’s good to have different people with different backgrounds and experience. I’ve collaborated with a number of the directors before I was actually able to direct the show. And it’s always good to sit down with different backgrounds – we all bring different things to the table.”

Too Many Cooks plays at Elmira Theatre Company (64 Howard Ave.) April 25-27, May 1-4, 8-10. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $19 and can be purchased at www.centreinthesquare.com or by calling 1-800-265-9877.

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