A 1970s British newlywed puts in a mail order for Scandinavian glassware and instead receives a flood of pornography. She and her assistant bank manager husband embark on damage control only to watch the situation spin wildly out of control.
That’s the premise of the farce “No Sex Please, We’re British,” which will run at The Potomac Playmakers Performing Arts Center for its second weekend Friday, May 21 through Sunday, May 23.
The show’s director, Paulette Lee, is a relatively new face to The Potomac Playmakers but not to the theater. Lee spent more than six decades studying, performing, directing and adapting theatrical techniques for non-theatrical settings. She studied acting through private lessons as a pre-teen in Los Angeles, attended two well-known California universities and was an early member of renowned improvisational comedy troupe The Groundlings.
Lee developed a peace-building program for female community leaders in Iraq based on improvisational comedy techniques. She worked as an award-winning broadcast journalist, and retired from a career in marketing and communications working abroad, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.
“I’ve been doing theater for 60 years. I joke that I started as Juliet and ended up as the nurse,” she said, referencing the age range of characters in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Lee, who has acted in two shows with The Potomac Playmakers, moved to Hagerstown about six months ago. Before that, she lived for about a year and a half in Frederick, Md., and prior to that, in France.
After acting with The Potomac Playmakers, she decided to try her hand at directing for the group. Given the choice of “No Sex Please” or another show, she chose the two-act comedy by Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot.
“Though I have performed in farces, I have never directed one before. I am always interested in a theatrical challenge and this indeed was one,” she said. “People tend to think of farces as being a lot of fun with people running around and slamming doors, and that is true. But it also has to be very well choreographed.”
Perhaps even more importantly, she said, farces need to have developed, three-dimensional characters and not “over-the-top automatons.”
“First, I always ask for input from the actors, being primarily an actor myself. I know they are aware of what can be done. But they are not aware of what it looks like,” she said.
Lee approached the show with a read-through followed by intensive table talk addressing what the play is about, who the characters are, and their relationships to one another.
“We discussed what they want, what they get, and the way they get it,” she said, “about what mannerisms they would use to help physicalize their characters.”
Lee said the cast of nine characters, which includes Nic Sigman and Michelle Boizelle as the ruffled husband and wife duo, is “very talented.”
Boizelle, an experienced actor who also is new to the Playmakers, said the absurdity of the show makes it a lot of fun.
“(The married couple) is trying to hide pornography the whole show. In each scene, something goes wrong and it gets zanier and zanier and more and more funny,” she said. “There is a lot of making up stories to cover up our lies. A lot of physical humor, running in and out of rooms, a lot of action onstage.”
The audience responded enthusiastically the first weekend of the show’s run.
“After being cooped up this past year with COVID,” Boizelle said, “I think comedy is what everybody needed to see. It’s so nice to get back to live theater again and to laugh.”
During performances, actors had to hold lines until the audience finished laughing.
“That’s what we strive for in rehearsal, but we don’t know, ‘Is this funny?’” she said.
“When you get in front of an audience and they respond in that way, it fuels you to keep going and to keep vamping it up.”
Sigman, who has been with the Playmakers since 2014, said as pandemic restrictions are lifting, “people are aching to laugh.”
The shutdown had some positive side effects though, he said, one being that livestreamed shows can reach a broader audience. Sigman has family in Arizona who plan to watch by livestream.
“I think it will translate well,” he said. “I am happy and lucky that they will be able to stream it. I know a lot of other castmates who have family streaming it who otherwise would not be able to come and see it.”
The character of Brian Runnicles is portrayed by Andrew King.
At the time he was cast, Lee said she did not know that Runnicles was King’s dream role.
King is dedicating his performance to the late Al Gardner, a longtime Playmaker after whom the stage at the Potomac Playmakers Performing Arts Center is named.
“Runnicles was Al’s favorite role. He had been Runnicles, and (King) had wanted to play this role. He does it magnificently,” Lee said. “All the actors are really good and really funny.”
What: No Sex Please, We’re British
When: Friday, May 21 at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 22 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 23 at 3 p.m. Livestream Friday, May 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 23 at 3 p.m.
Where: 17303 W. Washington St., Hagerstown, and online
Cost: – Tickets $15
Contact: Go to http://www.potomacplaymakers.org/ or call 240-513-6260