At Trinity Rep, the new play “Into the Breeches” by George Brant is filled with humor, or at least many a fast-breaking try for laugh after laugh.
It’s veteran cast, led by a luminous Anne Scurria, does all they can to pull through some serious moments amid a whole lot of overdone quick goofyness .
But somewhere along the line, very little of these attempts really works. It’s kind of like listening to a good friend try to tell a joke that just falls flat.
Here’s the background. Brant’s play is set in 1942 as the United States pulls itself together to fight the war of all wars. Everything is now about battling, about getting the men and machines overseas. The attitude is that we don’t want to do this, but by God we will get it done.
From there, all of this turns to the women on the home front. A group of Providence females decides that one thing they must do is keep the local theater going – even if there are almost no men to go on the boards.
They choose to go ahead with, of all plays, Shakespere’s Henry four and five. The women wrap them selves in men’s clothing, men’s manners. Led by Scurria’s Maggie, they are determened they can do all there is to do just as well, or, maybe even better, than the guys.
Here is playwright Brant’s real test. He hopes to show that the explosion of women’s drive in our current time was also available 75 or so years ago. It’s a worthwhile undertaking.
But the problem is that “Into the Breeches!” quickly goes off track. The humor becomes the heart of the show. And some of it, much of it really, is just plain over-silly. One guy who’s left out of the military adores being home and wearing a dress and heels. Others include the standard upper class woman who, playing a man, learns to work with all the lower class ladies.
And so on. There are sub-texts that show the hope and fear of the women’s rightful fear of what will happen to their men overseas. When those letters stop coming from their men overseas , anyone would quake. But mostly such feelings are surrounded, even quieted by the non-stop jokes used just too much.
Under near frantic direction by Tyler Dobrowsky the cast gives their all. Whether in a 1940s flashy dress or a much overdone military uniform Phyllis Kay is hilarious playing a small town actress as if it was Broadway all the way. Timothy Crowe is perfect as an old time business man who looks down at the “girls” and pays a price for that. The rest of the cast gives their best, and sometimes it works.
But in the end “Into the Breeches” does not march to victory. It’s need for over the top comedy, rough house as it is, simply does not allow the play’s message to come through as much as it ought to.
“Into the Breeches!” continues at Trinity Rep through February 25. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio’