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In celebrating its twentieth anniversary, Matrix Theatre hearkens back to two original one-act comedies for its charming April Foolery. Despite the prankster suggestion of its title, this production, directed by Nancy Kammer, solidly delivers on its promise of comedy without artifice, but with all the energy and fun of just clowning around.

The play’s first act, Para Siempre, was adapted from Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite by Maria Serratos. Set here in a southwest Detroit residence, parents Norma (Christina Hernandez) and Raul (Rudy Villareal) celebrate their daughter’s wedding day by trying to coax her out of the bathroom where she’s barricaded herself. Even with the changed setting and mingling of Spanish and English dialogue, Simon’s histrionic sensibility and sharp exchanges shine through, in a humorous and well-paced half hour. Kammer’s skill at polishing moments pays off as Hernandez and Villarreal humorously bicker and snipe, playing off each other with the comfortable give and take of a long-married couple. The pair is joined by Kristin Schultes and Eric Niece as the daughter and her intended, who sweep in for an efficient one-two punchline.

A minor marvel occurs during intermission, when Kevin Barron’s innovative set and lighting design shows an unexpected knack for transformation. The modestly appointed living room and the fully equipped backstage area are each complete and effective on their own; the fact that the two playing spaces — with vastly different needs — coexist on the exposed Matrix stage is considerably impressive. The uncredited sound design, eschewing a unifying tone, sticks with celebratory mariachi tunes in anticipation of the first act and showy Broadway numbers preceding the second. The only clear parallels between these scripts are their shared Matrix history and their comedy; to read any deeper into it is to miss the simple enjoyment of a production this light and entertaining.

A wacky, soapy caper, Roger Kerson’s Backstage Passes marries the revolving-door exhaustion of farce with high-stakes noir and adds a dash of old-fashioned comedy routine patter. Set in the wings of a historical pageant as heavy on melodrama as it is light on accuracy, the story concerns the big-name star (Dennis Kleinsmith), his ingénue mistress (Angela Robitaille), the jaded actress (Schultes), and the stagehand tasked with getting them through the play (Barron). Love affair becomes love triangle (or is it love rhombus?) as the intertwining allegiances begin to implode on themselves; Kleinsmith and Robitaille hit notes of jealousy and aloofness as cagey lovers, Schultes has a grand-dame touch as she positions herself above such tawdriness, and Barron gives his capable actor-wrangler an appealing vulnerability that propels him through numerous plot developments. Costume and properties design (by Lauren Montgomery and Katie Terpstra, respectively) becomes a parade of theatrical ensembles and sundry, each attempting to out-absurd the last; the utter mundanity assigned these costume changes keeps from derailing the ever-twisting action and heightens the over-it backstage atmosphere that causes performers to manufacture their own drama. At first, the myriad infidelities of this world seem deceptively passé, but the action takes a turn that calls for police involvement — specifically, the unfathomable ineptitude of Moe (Niece) and Joe (Dan Woitulewicz), whose precision symbiosis is a fine example of the sum being greater than its composite parts.

The two disparate halves of April Foolery are well matched in their heightened characterizations and sense of play. Thoughtful direction by Kammer and inventive design by Barron make way for surprises and treats that only enhance the main attraction: comedy, executed with just the right amount of flair. The production’s breezy ninety-minute running time speaks to the potency of these two rich morsels, ready to satiate any appetite for laughter.


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