Last weekend, the AHS Drama department premiered their new play, “Farce of Habit.” Jointly written by Jamie Wooten, Jessie Jones and Nicholas Hope, Farce follows a group of… interesting individuals. These individuals spend a weekend at the Reel Em Inn owned by the Wanelle Wilburn (Carter), and D. Gene Wilburn (Hanesworth). Over this “one and a half hour” weekend, personalities clash and… well a farce ensues, all while the looming threat of an ax murderer hangs over the residents’ heads.
So the question becomes – is it a good farce? Well let’s get into that. The main problem that Farce faces is the fact that, honestly it’s just not a great play. The play is chaotic to a fault, and while one could argue that that’s the point, that doesn’t necessarily make it good. There are at least five different plot lines going on throughout the play (though one could say there are six or seven), and when you only have less than two hours to tell your story – well there are some problems that arise. None of the plot lines are ever able to reach the level that they need to in order to make this play an enjoyable production. Even the story arc that the play itself is named after, the arc concerning bad habits, is relegated to nothing more than a couple scenes. This lack of streamlining is a classic sign of bad writing and there are a million different ideas shoved into one package. What we’re left with is an incoherent package of ideas. Another issue with the play is that the collection of scenes, although funny, they don’t work as one, cohesive story.
Yet, despite the lack of a decent script I would implore you all to go see Farce of Habit because everything else this production does is fantastic. Yes, the script as a whole doesn’t work that well. But, there’s no denying that a lot of the scenes are funny as hell and the way the cast uses these scenes, is nothing less than professional.
The cast I saw was one of the best I’ve ever seen from the drama department. Particular stand-outs include: Jade Carter, Max Hanesworth and Lexie Prue. The trio are some of the strongest actors the department has to offer. Hanesworth, coming straight out of his incredible performance as assassinated radio host Alan Berg in God’s Country, is great as the eccentric patriarch of the Wilburn family. There’s a certain voice that protrudes out of him, a voice that is perfect of the theater. I cannot imagine Hanesworth being anything other than a stage actor because the stage is so built for him and he is so built for the stage. His expressive reactions and flavorful attitude make him a joy to watch on stage.
Carter is on an opposite but just as impressive side of the spectrum. She is cool and collected as Hanesworth’s wife and manages to keep herself so throughout the performance. She is never the flashiest character on the stage, yet she is able to draw the audience to her based on talent alone. Out of the entire cast, Carter is the most in tune with her character. Her reactions feel natural, she feels natural, and that is an incredible thing to find in a high school level actress.
Prue is a nice combination of both Hanesworth and Carter. She manages to act out while also be genuine and natural in her performance. She’s able to produce this sense of natural insanity, which is a skill perfectly suited for a play like Farce. Prue is very clearly someone who cares deeply about the drama department. The posters for this production were in fact created by her, and her passion really shows in her performances. She’s even better in Farce than she was in God’s Country, and I have no doubt she’ll be even better in whatever she does next.
Though I’ve spent the last three paragraphs singing the praises of just three of the actors, it would be a crime to forget the rest of the cast. Geoffrey Hamilton is perfectly cast as sleazy radio host, Jock McNair. He, like Carter, manages to slip into his character as if it’s an extension of himself. His facial expressions, his gait, everything he does on stage is all so centered in his character. Not to mention his comic presence which is equally as impressive.
Ella Villines and Layne Woodward have great chemistry together which is good because their characters are entirely based in one another. They manage to portray a sense of both awkwardness and connection which is exactly what the parts ask for. Woodward’s revelation on whom the murder is, also stands as one of the highlights of the production.
Braden Swanson is one of my favorite people to see on stage. He, like Hanesworth, seems so at home in front of a crowd. Him playing a bumbling nerd stereotype is another example of perfect casting. His physical presence is outstanding and the way that he constantly just borders on overacting is perfect for the character. It’s such a different character for him to play compared to his God’s Country role and he does it perfectly. He is a consistent scene-stealer.
Lili Adkins is great fun as well. She’s not on stage as often as many of the other characters but she makes the most out of the times she is. Her dynamic with Hanesworth is another highlight of the show and her final scenes in the show give her a chance to shine.
Finally, Jordan Bautch. Mild spoiler here, there is a reveal midway through the play that the character that Bautch plays isn’t what she seems to be. And the way that she handles this reveal and switches her initial character to something very different, is shockingly fluid. It’s yet another highlight of the show.
While this years previous production, God’s Country, was characterized by purposefully sparse direction, this production allows director Scott Burnett to show off his impeccable skill as a show runner. Complex blocking is all performed wonderfully. Costumes are all fun, while not being too outlandish to take away from the performances. And that set, the set is really something else. Set designer Steve Craig has gone above and beyond to make the Reel it Inn seem like an actual place. Adorned with photos of Mr. Garcia and other strange amenities, the Inn feels like it has a distinct history to it. As characters run in and out around the area, in and out it’s doors, the set stands as the perfectly strange area for all these strange characters to run around in. Particularly impressive are the thunder and lighting effects, put on through the joint effort of Kaleb Lissner on lights and Andrew Knapp on sound. Burnett brings out the best in his actors and manages to create a world from the ground up.
The play is technically impressive and acted marvelously. The Drama Department manages to overcome the shortcomings of their script to produce a fantastic show and there is much here to be admired. I look forward to seeing the second cast as soon as possible.
Farce of Habit cast one performs one more time on March 23rd. Cast two performs the 22nd and 24th. All shows start at 7:00, admission is by donation at the door.
Photo Credit: Madison Berris