On-fire farce

Set in a New York City restaurant kitchen, Tom Rooney’s “Flaming Idiots” is a contemporary farce that has nothing to do with mentally deficient homosexuals, but instead follows the entrepreneurial misadventures of two former postal employees in their attempt to run a gourmet health-food restaurant.

One problem: Carl and Phil have no idea what they’re doing, so they hatch a desperate plan to save their enterprise by copying a rival restaurant that gained infamy and a steady stream of customers after a notorious mobster was gunned down there.

While “Idiots” doesn’t break any ground, it is a fast-paced, fairly entertaining romp. Don Taylor brings considerable comedic talent and experience with the show to bear as director, having made his stage debut in the piece at Jewel Box 12 years ago.

As Phil, the put-upon straight man and alpha twit, Chris Briscoe delivers an energetic, perpetually exasperated performance that, while entertaining, feels a little one-note.

J. Aaron Chartier is charmingly incompetent as the well-intentioned, high-strung Carl. Perhaps the biggest idiot of all, Carl could have been grating, but Chartier keeps him innocent and silly enough to keep the audience on his side.

The shady, but adorable busboy, Ernesto (Josh McGowen), steals every scene. Between his hilarious physical performance, cartoon-quality facial expressions and ridiculous accent, he’s the play’s MVP.

The female roles are underwritten; while not portrayed as idiots, the women get treated more like props than people.

Christine Jolly makes the most of her brief appearances as a semi-slutty PR rep/food critic/crime reporter. Saddled with the part of impaired chef Bernadette, Rachel Messer embraces the limits of the role and throws herself into the physical comedy, pulling some great faces in response to the crazy events around her. She engages in some delightful gestural gags with Marcus Wade in his playfully coarse turn as oblivious Officer Task.

Paul Smith is amusing as the aged hitman, Louie, but the senile bit is overused. He plays the role a little too sedate at times when pitted against the manic pace and energetic performances.

Being a contemporary piece, “Idiots” doesn’t stand out in the costuming, but serves its purpose more than adequately. Unfortunately, the sets are a little on the shabby side, even for Jewel Box, and the most important prop, employed during the climax, is fairly disappointing.

Technical issues aside, a fun script, great cast and clever direction makes “Idiots” a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Eric Webb

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