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Connecting with the characters key to Metropolis farce 'Out of Order'
By Jack Helbig | Daily Herald Correspondent

Michael Woods, Kevin Kurasch and Andrew Pond rehearse a scene from "Out of Order" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.


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Published: 1/7/2010 12:01 AM

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Farces seem to come in only two flavors - very funny and very awful. The difference has everything to do with how the play is done.

"The characters in a farce can be very cookie-cutter," says Director David Belew.

Belew knows of what he speaks. He is in the midst of directing Ray Cooney's "Out of Order," which opens in previews Thursday, Jan. 14 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

"You have to create characters that people care about," Belew says.

Thus, the success of a farce depends a lot on finding the right actors and rehearsing them well. Belew has been working on "Out of Order" since July, when he began auditioning actors for the show.

"The play is about a (British) politician who is at a hotel with a mistress," Belew says. "They find a dead body in the window. He doesn't want anyone to know there is a dead body because he would have to explain why he was in a hotel with a dead body with his secretary."

Once his ensemble was locked into place, Belew began choreographing the show.

Cooney's "Out of Order" is a classic British farce, with lots of movement on stage - near misses, door slamming, characters hiding from one another. Much of the comedy comes from how gracefully the actors are able to negotiate that movement.

Belew, an actor turned director, has been directing farces for years. In fact, he first came to the attention of Metropolis Executive Director Jim Jarvis when he directed Jarvis in Larry Shue's "The Foreigner" at the Attic Playhouse. Later Belew earned accolades for his direction of another Cooney farce, "Run for Your Wife."

"Planning is essential, especially with a farce," he says. "I always sit down and completely block it out. I write the whole thing out, all the moves. Also, for 'Out of Order,' the set designer put together a model of the set and the floor plan."

The morning after Thanksgiving, Belew began rehearsing his actors, taking special pains to make the characters believable - and likable.

"It's hard." Belew says. "Because you start off with a character who is having an affair and then you ask the audience to care about him by the end of the show."

Another challenge of the show is the fact that Cooney loves to populate his plays with characters that are not entirely politically correct. In particular, every Cooney farce seems to include a young scantily clad woman who, at times, is played like a nitwit.

The thing is, the comedy works better if she is not just a dumb broad, Belew says.

"We have to love her. There has to be something that connects her to the audience," he says.

"I told the actress who plays this character, 'You don't have to play the dumb broad. You can play against type. She is there for a purpose. She is not just the politician's play toy. She has her own agenda. Give her her own power."

As the opening approaches, Belew is excited. "We are in great shape," he says. "And the play itself is very funny. And it is very universal. I was looking at YouTube. I found productions of 'Out of Order' in Chinese. I found productions in Korean. The play works well in other languages, not just English. Wherever you happen to be doing the play, the comedy shines through."

• "Out of Order" starts previews Thursday, Jan. 14, and officially opens Sunday, Jan. 17. It runs through Feb. 19 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights. For tickets call (847) 577-2121 or visit the Metropolis Web site,