‘Building Madness’ is a fun ride

Northern Michigan University will present the Panowski Playwriting Award-winning play “Building Madness” tonight through Satuday at The Forest Roberts Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Lilith Kontos)

MARQUETTE — The Panowski Playwriting Award-winning play “Building Madness,” written by Kate Danley, premieres today at the NMU Forest Roberts Theatre and it is a fun roller coaster of a ride. This slapstick comedy dives into the business world of 1930, and an architecture firm that is struggling stay afloat. President and chief designer Max and Paul only have a week to pay the bank $7,000, and, with the help of their not-so-bright secretary Trixie, get tangled up in a mob deal thinking it will solve all their problems. What could possibly go wrong?

“Building Madness” unfolds on stage like some of the great 1930s movie comedies — think “The Thin Man” or “It Happened One Night” — weaving innuendo and intrigue, good guys and crooks, witty wordplay, romance, and some sight gags as well into a well-crafted and entertaining package. The writing is taut and fun and engaging. You always wonder where things will go next. The pace is brisk and the dialogue is peppered with funny miscommunications and misunderstandings that lead to some very interesting results. Very entertaining to watch and I dare you to try not to laugh out loud.

The scenic design by Vic Holliday and executed by David Pierce and his staff does a great job setting the mood. From the giant art deco window and skyline dominating the center of the stage to the office doors with transom windows above to the period furniture and fittings, you know from the moment the show starts that you are in a business in a 1930s-era skyscraper. The costume design by Susan Candey takes you further into the 1930s. She does a great job keeping the look and feel of the 1930s business and socialites while accommodating the many fast changes that the pace of the scenes calls for. The lighting design and use of period music and sound effects completes the setting. An easy place to get into character for the actors. So what do they do with it?

Carly Bellock plays Trixie, the “not-so-bright” and charming secretary. She has great comedic timing and delivery, her stylized physical performance harks back to the screwball comedies cited earlier: she is simply perfect for the role. This is a breakout role for Bellock, her first turn here at NMU as a leading lady, and she makes the most of every moment. Ethan Bott is Paul Fielding, one of the architectural firm’s partners and chief designer. He is smooth and suave, quick of wit and tongue, and looks dashing in his suits. Again, perfect for his role. This is the best performance to date that I have seen from Bott. He was charming and personable and a joy to watch. Max Marshall, the son of the firm’s founder and new president, is played by Jason Parks. Again, a very solid performance from Parks. His character is a bit of a womanizer and opportunist and secures a bid for an important project by rekindling a romance with his high school girlfriend, Gwen Gladwell. Of course, he secures the funds to save the firm in a similar fashion with Ruby Deleoni, the femme fatale mob boss of the city. Gwen is played by Carly Plasman, and she is well cast in the role. She carries herself like one of the characters in a 1930s comedy, someone of culture and refinement, and still carries a torch for Max many years after he broke her heart. Well played, Ms. Plasman. Taylor Kulju is no stranger to the NMU stage and handles her role as mob boss/sex symbol/femme fatale with ease. She slinks across the stage with the knowledge that her intended target’s eyes will always be on her. Rounding out the cast is Nick Salin as Vito Deleoni, the erstwhile “contactor” of the Deleoni crime family. He is appropriately menacing and charming when needed and is an imposing physical presence which makes his implied threats all that much more believable. Overall, a great ensemble cast in a tight comedy. They have good chemistry onstage and solid comedic timing.

Paul Truckey directed “Building Madness,” and his love of comedy comes through in all his choices as a director. Slapstick physicals, staccato timing, great grasp of the new material here, it all shows onstage. He gets “the picture” right without relying solely on that to make us laugh. Great job. I laughed myself silly.

It continues to be a very strong season at the FRT. From the timely production of “Where a Certain Future,” “Proof,” and the return of “Scrooge” and this show, it has been a solid and entertaining season. Many great performances and nights of entertainment. Make sure you don’t miss this show. Just the thing to dispel the winter time blues. “Building Madness” is being presented the following times:

— 7:30 p.m. tonight

— 7:30 p.m. Thursday

— 7:30 p.m. Friday

— 1 p.m. Saturday

— 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Tickets are available at the FRT Box Office, any NMU EZ Tickets outlet, online at www.nmu.edu/tickets, or by calling 906-227-1032. Plan an evening around a night at the theater. You won’t be disappointed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Martyn Martello is a local director and actor.