CRT’s production of Women In Jeopardy

Women In Jeopardy, by Wendy MacLeod. Directed by Kathryn Markey; scenic design by Anna Grigo; costume design by Orli Nativ; lighting design Mary Lana Rice; property design by Andrew Carney; sound design by Seth Asa Sengal; at Cortland Repertory Theatre RT through August 25.

To paraphrase a review that the late great Harlan Ellison once wrote:

You know how I know a funny show? A funny show, I sit and laugh. An unfunny show, I sit there and think about putting the clothes in the washer when I get home, and all the interviews I still have to transcribe and just wishing I was doing anything else than watching an unfunny show.

Cortland Repertory Theatre’s current production of Women In Jeopardy is a funny show.

We open in a kitchen and dining room in a house in the woods of Utah that belongs to Mary (Charlie Jhaye). She and her best friend Jo (Stefanie Londino) stagger in and head straight for the wine. It turns out that their other best friend Liz (Rebecca Mason-Wygal) has a new boyfriend, a dentist named Jackson (Nicholas Wilder).

Trouble is, Jackson is a little…off. It doesn’t help that he looks like Ray Liotta, has a tendency to lurk and has a thing for The Silence of the Lambs. Oh, and by the way, one of Jackson’s most valued dental hygienists was just abducted from the parking lot of Jackson’s dental practice and later murdered. So now it’s not just two friends who think their best friend’s boyfriend isn’t right for her. He must be a serial killer.

The murder plotting keeps the momentum going all the way to the end, but in some ways, I enjoyed the play most for its clever digressions, almost like an episode of “The Simpsons.” A note to the author, Wendy MacLeod: kudos for the Derek Zoolander reference.

Liz has a daughter named Amanda (Amanda Walker) who’s dating a misplaced surfer dude type named Trenner (Ethan Rich) who works in a snowboarding shop. As the plot thickens, Trenner gets the idea that Mary has the hots for him, and he’s totally ready for The Graduate experience. And so it is that halfway through the play, Rich’s Trenner ambles into Mary’s kitchen and kind of steals the show – and the story – for longer than you’d think.

There’s one or two other major comic surprises – and I do mean surprises – waiting for you when you see Kathryn Markey’s very clever and hilarious production. Right from the jump, Jhaye, Londino and Mason-Wygal suggest that kind of decades-long friendship, when in reality these performers probably met two or three week ago at most. Within minutes they’re finishing each other’s sentences. Amanda Walker in turn establishes a very exacting and adroit take on the kind of teenager who rolls her eyes at any utterance from an adult. And there’s no understating this: Ethan Rich takes what might have played like a cheap sex joke and almost walks away with the whole show. (Almost. Remember what I was saying about surprises? You’re welcome.)

Once again, CRT gets a lot of juice out of the performing space available at Little York Lake. Anna Grigo’s clever set design establishes Mary’s home, the local police station, Trenner’s snowboarding shop and a chilly campsite out in the middle of nowhere. Orli Nativ’s costumes are equally effective; everything the actors wear suggests the kind of commonplace reality that actually helps ground the accumulating comedy onstage•

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