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Checking back in to 'Fawlty Towers'

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Julie Lisnet and Ron Lisnet as Sybil and Basil Fawlty. (photo courtesy of Ten Bucks Theatre Company) Julie Lisnet and Ron Lisnet as Sybil and Basil Fawlty. (photo courtesy of Ten Bucks Theatre Company)

Ten Bucks Theatre Company presents evening of British comedy

ORONO - Ten Bucks Theatre Company is once again bringing hospitality, hilarity and bizarre Brits to the stage with the return of everyone's favorite awful hotel, Fawlty Towers.

This time, you'll find the check-in desk at the Cyrus Pavilion Theatre on the campus of the University of Maine. 'Farty Towels IV with Monty Python (Naughty) Bits' will be running through May 15. It's the company's fourth visit to Fawlty Towers since 2005 and their first since 2010.

For those who aren't connoisseurs of classic British comedy, Fawlty Towers is a hotel owned and operated by the abrasively inept Basil Fawlty and his shrewish wife Sybil. And despite their best efforts, Basil unfailingly manages to get into his own way and thwart his own plans through various amounts of bad luck, stubbornness and general idiocy.

The production features two 'episodes' from the program, interspersed with classic sketches from Monty Python and the duo of Fry and Laurie.

The first episode is 'The Psychiatrist.' As per usual, Basil (Ron Lisnet) and Sybil (Julie Arnold Lisnet) are at odds regarding the sorts of people who can stay at Fawlty Towers. Basil is particularly put out by the swaggeringly be-chained Mr. Johnson (Patrick Molloy); he suspects unacceptable in-room tomfoolery is afoot. However, the arrivals of a pair of doctors (Mike Weinstein and Mary Schwarz Norment) one of whom is a psychiatrist and a comely young Australian tourist (Moira Beale) throw Basil into a typical tizzy, much to Sybil's chagrin.

Episode two is 'The Wedding Party,' in which some friends of chambermaid Polly (Jenny Hancock) -Alan (Molloy) and Jean (Beale) stay at the hotel in advance of their wedding. But when Basil starts stumbling onto encounters he deems questionable, those innocent moments send him into a frenzy of eavesdropping and suspicion. Meanwhile, an attractive French antique dealer (Melissa Burkart) is making eyes at Basil and waiter/bellhop/whatever Manuel (Jon Ferreira) has over-celebrated his birthday, leading to some seemingly questionable encounters for Basil himself.

Honestly, plot synopsis isn't going to do these episodes justice; the wordplay and slapstick are just as vital to the experience as the narrative. Director Bernard Hope and the ensemble display a sharp understanding of that truth. From start to finish, one gets the impression of buttoned-down mayhem and that is meant in the best possible way.

And now for something completely different

TBTC has also sprinkled half-a-dozen comedic sketches four from Monty Python, two from Fry & Laurie throughout the evening. These include classics such as 'The Argument Sketch,' 'Nudge Nudge' and everyone's favorite dead parrot, as well as Fry & Laurie's hysterical 'Flushed Grollings.' It's all hands on deck for these; Ferreira, Hope and Brent Hutchins are highlights here.

Real-life married couple Ron and Julie Lisnet have once again brought these beloved characters to life. It's his third turn as Basil and her fourth go-round as Sybil and it shows. The two of them bring not only their own relationship dynamic to the party, but also an intimate familiarity with the characters that they are playing. Even with six years gone since the last installment, the two can't help but fall into the rhythms they know so well. Ron's Basil is all gangling twitches and thin skin, an endearingly paranoid idiot. And while these episodes might be a touch light on Sybil, Julie brings her no-nonsense bluster and cutting wit to full bear at every opportunity.

But while Basil and Sybil are certainly the driving force, there's no question that the success of 'Fawlty Towers' is just as reliant on the supporting cast. Ferreira's Manuel is exceptional, putting a pitch-perfect physicality on display. Even when he's working with few lines, he creates a very present, VERY funny character. Burkart takes a nice turn as the flirty French Mrs. Peginoir, while Malloy and Beale have some fun playing some very different characters Malloy's smugly punchable Mr. Johnson is of particular note. In short, every member of the ensemble does a fine job creating their individual pieces of the puzzle.

While the Cyrus Pavilion is a unique and welcoming space, it also presents some interesting challenges. Creating the different spaces necessary for a show like this one is a difficult task. Director Hope and the team of designers - Dan Bilodeau (scenic), Michele Begley (lighting) and Michael Philippon (sound) have not only overcome any obstacles presented by the space, but also found ways to make the unconventional stage work largely in their favor.

The ongoing 'Fawlty Towers' series is a wonderful Ten Bucks Theatre Company tradition. Take this opportunity to head up to Orono and stay with some old friends. They might be idiosyncratic and mildly off-putting and more than a little crazy, but they'll definitely make you laugh.

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