The Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Barely Heirs is a bit of an enigma, because even though it's problematic in plot and presentation, this farce delivers some big laughs. Despite taking issue with several elements of Friday's performance, I must also admit that I, along with the rest of the audience, not only laughed but guffawed, repeatedly, throughout the comedy. This play is deeply flawed, but also exceedingly funny.
Most of that laughter is earned by Ashley Hoskins' Jane, the potential heiress at the center of Barely Heirs' story. Playing a single woman set to inherit a million dollars from her late uncle - provided she's been married for at least six months - Hoskins, flipping her hair and wiggling her head, makes one unexpected performance choice after another, as when Jane is asked an awkward question and the actor takes not one but two beats before, out of the blue, offering the ask-er a cookie. There's also an amusing grin and accompanying nervous laughter prevalent throughout this almost manic characterization of a woman who'll do anything to get her hands on that money.
Playwright David Lassig peppers Barely Heirs with plenty of comedy gold, as Jane dreams up lie after lie to convince her late uncle's dimwitted (and horribly-wigged) lawyer William (Bill Hudson) that she's been married for six months. She must also keep her new fiancé Paul (Tyler Henning) from finding out about it all, and her multiple lies also require her married friends Tom (Shawn Sutton) and Clair (Ellie Gradert) to portray various characters, such as an Hispanic pool boy and people of Tom's and Clair's opposite genders.
Yet while this convoluted situation is big on laughs, Lassig failed to avoid gaping holes in the plot. Most significantly, Lassig didn't seem to pay attention to prior points in his own play, at least judging by the confusion some characters express. This is most prevalent in Gradert's Clair (whose jokes consistently fell flat on Friday, which left me wondering if Gradert might be a better fit for drama than comedy.) Clair is the only person, other than Tom, to know that Jane plans to employ a pretend husband. Yet when Clair discovers that Tom was to be that "husband," she pitches a fit about her best friend marrying her spouse in secret - as if it really happened.
While Henning has strong stage presence , his Paul is a shallowly-written character, giving the usually impressive actor little chance to show off his full talents. Sutton, however, shines brightly as he differentiates Tom and each of his three faked identities to great comic effect. Sutton's take on a nurse named Judy - with his falsetto delivery and Nerf-ball breasts - is, alone, worth Barely Heirs' ticket price. Renaud Haymon comes off pretty well, too, as a fairly laid-back police officer who eventually gets involved in the situation.
The piece requires quite a bit of suspension of disbelief, given how stupid many of the characters must be to believe Jane's obvious lies. You also have to suspend disbelief with the set (built by Craig Cohoon), which includes a number of doors along the back of the stage leading to rooms that, given their close proximity, must be no more than six feet wide. Director Don Hazen's pacing, too, is a bit of a problem, as it extends the time between big laughs and, in a way, emphasizes the duller sections of Lessig's writing. This comedy would be just about right at an hour-and-a-half or so (though it's listed by the play's publisher as running 110 minutes). And whether or not the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's two-and-a-half-hour run time is due to its loose pace, a peppier one could've made Barely Heirs - which is already oftentimes hilarious - a riot from beginning to end, huge plot holes and all.
Barely Heirs runs at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre (4950 35th Avenue, Moline) through January 18, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)762-0330 or visiting Playcrafters.com.