tomdickharry_thumb Most theatregoers have at least one genre that they simply can't get on board with. Some can't abide tragic plays - "I get enough drama in life" is their common refrain - and some don't like musicals, and there's an untitled genre that many people, sadly, seem to be petrified of: Shows I've Never Heard of Before.

The latest presentation at the Timber Lake Playhouse is entitled Tom, Dick, & Harry, which is a play that I'd never heard of before, but which also falls under the category of my least favorite genre: the slapstick farce. More often than not, shows of this ilk all seem the same to me: 20 minutes of protracted exposition and character introduction, an hour-plus of forced wackiness resulting from a series of misunderstandings, a few moments of maudlin sentimentality - to make us care about these people? - and a tidy wrap-up, with "naughty" double entendres and obvious, ba-dum-ching! punchlines sprinkled throughout. Many audiences love this stuff; I generally find the relentless bonhomie of it all depressing.

So it's no small praise to say that I really enjoyed Timber Lake's Tom, Dick, & Harry, even though my reasons for enjoying it don't have much to do with Tom, Dick, & Harry.

Written by Michael Cooney and his father Ray - author of It Runs in the Family, Not Now Darling, and other works that I might not care for, either - the play concerns Tom and Linda, a British couple preparing to buy a house and adopt a baby. Yet their plans inevitably go awry with the appearance of the husband's two brothers and, as the show's press release states, "illegal aliens, a dead body, smuggled cigarettes, and the Russian Mafia." (An incomplete list, as it fails to mention a drunken, ukulele-playing Albanian, an uncooperative pull-out bed, and Tutus Andronicus.) As expected, "hilarity" ensues.

Yet in Timber Lake's production, hilarity oftentimes does ensue, and without the quotation marks. Tom, Dick, & Harry's script is filled with those annoyingly convenient genre trappings we're meant to ignore - Why are there locks on doors that wouldn't have locks? - and it's at least a half-hour too long, but director Brad Lyons keeps the action moving at such a breakneck pace that you barely have time to notice the contrivances or length. Once its plot machinations are established, Tom, Dick, & Harry hurtles along at an invigorating clip, and Lyons allows his talented ensemble to emerge as fearless, jovial comedians; even when the material isn't making you laugh, the hard-working actors are.

There are wonderfully clever performances here by Sarah Dothage and the boisterous Sean Riley, both babbling in Albanian and broken English, and by Abby Haug, whose stuffy imperiousness as the adoption agent would make Judi Dench herself choke on her crumpet. Meredith Gifford, at first, appears hindered by the "nagging wife" role that seems de rigueur in British farce, but eventually gets incredible mileage out of her character's short-tempered aggravation; Gifford makes Linda's brief, weepy phone conversation with her parents the evening's biggest howl.

But the best thing about Tom, Dick, & Harry? Tom, Dick, and Harry. Justin Sample, Courtney Crouse, and Ben Mason, respectively, play the titular trio with inspiring comic panache, and Lyons directs their fraternal badinage sensationally well; these guys not only speak and move in unison, but inflect in unison. When these three get a decent bit - when, for instance, Tom attempts to explain why a dismembered corpse is littering the living room, or when Dick enacts a hilarious attempt at sign language, or when Harry, disguised as a gardener, slips into ultra-macho mode - Tom, Dick, & Harry is more delightful than, by rights, it should be, and it wasn't until the play's closing moments that I realized part of why I adored these siblings so much; add British accents and a Weekend at Bernie's subplot and they're practically the Bluth brothers from Arrested Development. That's a brand of farce I can totally get on board with.


For tickets, call (815) 244-2035.

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