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Wives run wild

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Everybody runs in Ray Cooney's Run For Your Wife. John Smith, the taxi driver who's married to two different wives, runs all over London trying to hide them from each other and, for that matter, also trying to hide two different policemen and two upstairs tenants --- all from one another, and the truth from everybody. The wives and policemen, all confused by hopelessly convoluted lies about who's who and what's going on, also run about or run amok.

          As you might imagine, if any of this frenzy slows down, the comedy will drag and stop working. Fortunately, it never does. And the final curtain calls are wilder and funnier than the action that precedes them.

          Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, which produced this crazy farce in 1993, is reviving it in a lively new production directed by Jay Falzone. Despite the limited physical production values, Falzone keeps the action clear and the movement varied and zippy. Characters have to move through the double set that represents bigamous John Smith's two different homes in London. So we see folks from the Wimbledon home on stage left cross over to a door in the Streatham home on stage right. And the cast's English accents are all over the place too. But it doesn't matter. This is a Ray Cooney farce.

          The plotting isn't just impossible; it's ridiculous and insults the intelligence. Queer ("pouffes" in Britain) jokes, marital sex jokes, and police jokes abound. Only the detectives behave calmly or logically and then only initially. But it doesn't matter. This is a Ray Cooney farce.

          We've seen several farces by Cooney at the Shaw Festival, where expensive production values, stylish delivery, and masterful physical comedy have lent them unusual sheen. No doubt, when Cooney himself appears in his farces, his extraordinary skill gives them extra panache. Even without him, Run For Your Wife ran in London for nine years and has played successfully worldwide. I know that, but I can't explain it. Some things just work.

          Rob Weston is appropriately manic as the hapless John Smith. Amanda Irwin-Ladwig is pretty and goes amusingly bonkers as his confused wife Mary. Robyn Fazio is sexy and builds her exasperation to mania effectively as his wife Barbara. David Autovino is actually likable as the annoyingly intrusive friend whom you'd like the protagonist to punch out, and he develops into a zany co-conspirator. Bobby Conte seems to be having fun as the over-the-top queen from upstairs. As the Wimbledon detective, Liam Scahill is an excellent foil for the others' madness, keeping an admirable straight face for much of the proceedings. And Mark Almekinder makes the Streatham detective as genuinely peculiar as the others work to be.

          They all seldom stop racing about, and the audience seldom stops laughing. Why criticize?

Run For Your Wife,by Ray Cooney, directed by Jay Falzone, plays at Downstairs Cabaret Theatre Center, 540 East Main Street, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m., through the end of February. Tix: $10.50-$24. 325-4370, www.downstairscabaret.com.

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