Tour de Farce, Broutil & Frothingham Productions, at Theatre Building Chicago. In his book Mis-Directing the Play, Terry McCabe makes a compelling argument against dictatorial directors who treat actors as mere “cogs in the director’s machine.” Yet his own Milquetoast staging of Kingsley Day and Philip LaZebnik’s 1993 comedy made me doubt the wisdom of his words.

McCabe allows his two stars, Joan Maurer and George Seegebrecht, to flounder and flop around the stage, unable to wring more than a handful of polite titters from the witty script. A dictatorial director would have told his actors that, in farce, velocity is everything–especially farce written in the tradition of The Mystery of Irma Vep. The two actors here are asked to play five characters each and perform any number of insanely quick changes backstage without letting a wig slip or a costume come undone. A dictatorial director might even have told them to stop telegraphing punch lines, speaking their lines too slowly, and trying to get laughs with funny voices and weird poses.

This unobtrusive director lets his performers ruin most of the jokes by indulging in every comedy cliche in the book, not to mention bits that were never funny enough to become cliches. Maurer’s performance as a self-aggrandizing TV personality is particularly annoying. True, this isn’t the most brilliant farce ever written, but it deserves better than this.