Tony Labriola, artistic coordinator at Chicago Heights’ Drama Group, described the difference between British and American farcical comedy is it's as vast as the distance between the two lands.
“American farce and American comedy tends to be kind of obvious and crude in some ways, “ he said. “Part of the reason why some of the farce works in a different way in Great Britain, I believe, is that they have a lot of politeness and things that they don’t say in their comedy. That allows for the comedy to be achieved more easily. It’s more visual humor, and I would say the Americans' is more verbal humor.”
Drama Group is bringing those two lands together, as the British-based Stables Theatre holds court for a production of the comedy “Taking Steps.” Their production of the acclaimed farce is scheduled to run through June 15.
Penned by Alan Ayckbourn, a Tony Award winning playwright whom Labriola compared favorably to Neil Simon, “Steps” chronicles the hijinks surrounding the purchase of a shoddy and possibly haunted house by Roland and the attempts to thwart the purchase by several parties.
“Steps” made its debut in London’s West End in 1980 and, a year later, graced Broadway for the first time.
“(‘Steps’) is not only a good example of what is typical in British comedy, but it’s one of the few actual complete farces that Ayckbourn has written,” Labriola said. “Ayckbourn has written a lot of comedies, just like Neil Simon has written a lot of comedies. But there’s only one or two, just like Neil Simon, that represent completely a genre. And this represents the genre of farce.”
Since 1999, Drama Group and the Hastings-based Stables Theatre have participated in an exchange program, which has seen Drama Group cast and crew cross the pond and grace the Stable Theatre boards, and vice versa, usually on a biennial basis. Two years ago, Drama Group made their way to Hastings for a staging of “Rabbit Hole,” which served as the U.K.’s premiere production of the acclaimed drama.
To Labriola, the 15-year relationship between the two theater companies has been artistically beneficial on many levels.
“We’ve shared various kinds of technical expertise related to theater,” he said. “We’ve shared organizational expertise. How we do props. How we do costumes. Different varieties of constructions. And of course, we’ve talked about different acting styles.”
Nearly a dozen Stables Theatre cast and crew are making their way stateside, with several Drama Group members taking them in for their stay.
“When we go there and when they come here, they are our guests,” Labriola said. “We put them up in our homes, we take them places, we feed them, we wine and dine them when we can. We have made long-term relationships that have really been wonderful in terms of sharing everything from theater stories to personal stories.”
The Drama Group is scheduled to return to the stage with their production of the musical “Reefer Madness,” slated to open at their Studio Theatre Aug. 1.
FYI: “Taking Steps” is presented at 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Drama Group Studio Theatre, 330 W. 202nd St., Chicago Heights. Tickets are $19 adults, $18 seniors, $15 students and groups of 25 or more Call (708) 755-3444 or visit DRAMAGROUP.ORG