One of Joe DePauw's smartest directorial choices for the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's A Turn for the Nurse was to avoid camp. His cast doesn't play the crime farce for laughs and, as a result, may get more of them than they otherwise might've; to be sure, Saturday's audience was offering up laughter aplenty throughout the performance.
The comedy opens with aged millionaire Oliver Stratton (Dave Rash) lovelorn, and not knowing the whereabouts (or even the name) of his beloved. He decides to set sail for, and live a monk's life in, Tibet, a plan that has his son (Cory Holbrook), nephew (Alex Klimkewicz), nephew's girlfriend (Cara DeMarlie), lawyer (Jackie Patterson), and nurse (Molly McLaughlin) scrambling to be named in his will before he leaves. Yet while they all hope to be willed Oliver's money, his butler (Archie Williams) and maid (Faith Adams) are trying to steal it outright from the man's hidden safe.
Casting Rash was another of DePauw's smart choices. The character of Oliver Stratton requires a significant suspension of disbelief, as he's unaware of things said and done right in front of him. Rash, however, makes great use of dumbfounded and puzzled looks - making it easier to believe his Oliver is truly oblivious to the events around him - and the actor's strong stage presence commands your attention as he effectively delivers one laugh-worthy line after another.
DeMarlie is equally confident, both as an actress and a character. Her Sylvia is a strong-willed, crass woman, and the seemingly uninhibited DeMarlie attacks the role with gusto, delivering a performance made memorable by her sarcastic line deliveries and (when it's required) well-played feigned sincerity.
Several others are equally noteworthy. Isaac Ritter is especially funny while speaking with a higher-pitched, Asian-accented voice as the Tibetan monk Wu Chang, and when offering a dumb, drunken look during the show's dinner scene. Klimkewicz's Derek manages to come across as both charming and slimy. And Holbrook's George is convincingly unpretentious, even as he's plotting to get his father's money. His performance made me want to root for George as he planned to do harm, thinking he must be doing so with harmless motives.
A Turn for the Nurse is not without its weaknesses, chief among them some awkward staging. A few scenes require Adams' Jane to overhear conversations and misinterpret them as being directed toward her; in each instance, however, she's positioned away from the action in a corner of the stage, making it difficult to believe she'd be confused by what's being said. And while Lynn Monge is adorable in her role as Cora Van Beck, a crusader for the temperance movement, her use of pauses - both before delivering her lines and during them - slows the pace of the show significantly.
Monge's costume, however, is the best of the bunch. Overall, costume designer Jean Melillo's selections are appropriate, but the feather boa and hat she's outfitted Monge with actually add to her character, offering a physical representation of this woman's flighty, socially awkward nature.
Playwright Rick Abbott's script has its fair share of groan-worthy jokes. Yet rather than halfhearted laughter, DePauw's A Turn for the Nurse elicits hearty guffaws, primarily because the actors allow themselves to be the butts of the jokes rather than being in on the jokes. It's a wise choice. Hamming it up would just dumb this show down.
For tickets and information, call (309) 944-2244 or visit RHPplayers.com.
Thom White covers entertainment news for WQAD Quad Cities News 8.