(Sometimes) laughing in State 

click to enlarge 20070515_182755_2_storyjpg
David Maloof, Susan Riley, Lila Jean Potts, and Brett Thacker in Lying in State. Courtesy photo.
Lying in State
Fri-Sat, 6pm dinner,
8pm show
$44.95 (plus tax)
dinner and show, $25
(plus tax) show only
Through June 23
The Church Theatre
1150 S. Alamo
271-7791
Churchbistroand
theatre.com

The topical humor of political comedy Lying in State is as non-existent as the Harveyesque squirrels which roam the world of the play. But that doesn’t mean my mind didn’t flash over to Vice President Dick Cheney on discovering the central character had once accidentally shot someone.

The shooting victim was Edna, who at the start of State has returned to the side of her ex-husband/shooter Ed, a state senator — but only because he’s dead (and believe me, that couldn’t prohibit him from being the central character). Her not-so-dearly departed was running — without a chance — for re-election when he croaked. But, because Ed’s death is marketed as “murder by local riffraff,” he is recognized posthumously as a national crime-fighting hero; in turn his approval ratings skyrocket.

Initially, his party chairman Herb wishes for the newly-slimmed, feminist-appeasing Edna to run in Ed’s place — she has the right name, after all. But she’s not too keen on the idea, and then, one by one, each of Ed’s loved ones reveals he had “promised” his senate seat to them. A bit monarchical, but it moves the plot forward. Add in some bodysnatching, a girlfriend who’s bedded the entire American political community, and a coke dealer lying in state, and you’ve got the show.

Lying in State is the late David C. Hyer’s second and last play, and truth be told, it is rather shambled (it doesn’t have much of an arc, and the acts feel unbalanced). However, in the Church Theatre’s production, memorable performances abound.

Chief among such performances is Susan Riley’s Margo, a grieving, over-medicated widow with a secret she plans to take to the grave. Using the high or drunk for humor can seem cheap, but not when it’s this well executed. Riley is an absolute master, clumsily wielding her little orange bottle through the worst. Her scene with Donald Bayne, who plays Ed’s brother Harry, is divine.  

Similarly, David Maloof (Wally) and Brett Thacker (Herb) have some terrific exchanges, particularly when Herb asks the much younger Wally to kneel on his behalf to address the Lord in prayer. (You can find the prayer in the program, which is meant to look like a funeral program, as well as a recipe for a rum cocktail called “The Purple Squirrel.”)

Lila Jean Potts was perfectly cast in the role of Edna, but she maintains the same exasperated, incredulous pitch in her speech for the duration of the show, delivering each line identical to the last. It becomes grating. While she certainly has reason to be frantic, there’s room for more range.

Overall, the comedy could be, and is at times, great — but more than a little heavy-handed. Portions of Lying in State possess further potential than what is achieved here; they require expert comedic timing. Still, the crowd met both acts of this simply set, simply lit play genially on opening night, and that speaks for itself. 


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