Richard Peck smiles as he tells a story of watching two teens in Italy running full speed, keeping a soccer ball in the air the whole time. The ball bounced off their chests, heads, knees, whatever it took to keep it from falling to the ground.
In ways, that sums up what he’s after with his comedy, “Lovers, Wives and Tennis Players” through Kauai Community Players.
“How long can you keep that ball in the air?” he asked. “That’s what a farce is about. Mistaken identities, confusion, the whole play can fall apart if anybody asks the right questions.”
Still, Peck won’t know if this play he wrote and directed works until a live audience is in the theater — and there will be when it opens at 7 tonight at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse.
In drama, Peck notes, no matter what happens, friends will tell an actor they were wonderful in their role.
Not so in comedy.
“The audience laughs or it doesn’t laugh,” Peck said. “There’s no lying. You know right now if it’s working or not. You don’t know until the audience is there.”
Lovers, Wives and Tennis Players, described as having “razor-sharp dialogue and split second timing that will have you laughing as the absurdity builds,” has already sold out this weekend’s shows, so it’s off to a good start.
The seven-member cast features T.J. Hamilton as Alan Carroll, Gabby Davidson as Betty Carroll, Anne Sueko Coyle as Mary Jergens, Larry Richardson as Bob Jergens, Erin Gaines as Florence, Jeff Demma as Lyle and Joseph Quentin as Tank.
Confusion reigns when they all eventually come together at a cottage, and each misunderstands what’s going. Really, only the audience knows.
“The characters are talking about different things and don’t know it,” Peck said.
The set, notes Peck, has five entrances.
“If three is a good play, five is better,” he said, laughing.
Peck has written 16 plays, 14 of them comedies that have been seen in 61 theaters and nine states. One was a musical, one was a thriller.
“I decided it was time to write a farce,” he said.
The cast likes the challenge of comedy.
“Your timing has to be more impeccable than in drama,” said Gaines, whose character is described as a confident, 40-year-old cougar.
“The exact opposite of me in every way,” said Gaines. “I don’t really relate to her at all.”
But she is a fan of comedic timing, which requires delivering humorous lines with a straight face.
“It’s amazing and fun and really hard to master,” said Gaines, who was also cast in Peck’s first play performed on Kauai two years ago, “Prodigal Father.”
She is looking forward to having a full house each night and promises the audience will get “buckets of laughs.”
“It’s just a good time,” she said. “I think everyone can relate to the awkward that occurs. I’m a fan of awkward.”
Hamilton plays Alan Carroll, an architect who comes to the cottage to present a possible redesign but gets drawn into much more than ever expected.
“From there, the craziness ensures,” he said.
Alan Carroll, he said, is a fun character to play. He gets progressively more anxious, “and ends up with the least amount of clothes possible for this stage. Anytime you play a role where you end up in your skivvies, I say yes to it.”
This is Hamilton’s first role with KCP since moving to Kauai from Colorado in 2016.
“I’m grateful Richard took a chance on an unknown face to the KCP theater stage,” he said.
Like Gaines, Hamilton said comedy is fun, but more demanding.
“I think comedy is more work because when you’re rehearsing for that comedy you’ve got to try and figure out what the audience is going to laugh at and should we try and keep laughs throughout,” he said. “Even in comedy, you have to have that story that keeps the audience engaged.”
Jeff Demma plays Lyle, who goes to the cottage to meet a woman, but they continually manage to miss each other.
“Things go wrong quickly,” he said.
The play is light-hearted fun, Demma said, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
“A lot of people don’t realize this. Drama is way easier,” he said. “Comedy is far more difficult.”
That’s partly because there’s no audience during rehearsals. All that changes starting tonight.
“Once you have people in the audience, you actually have laughter, you have to learn to play off the laughter,” said Demma, who was also in Prodigal Father. “You have to be able to play with whatever your audience gives you, or not. That is where every night is different.”
Peck said the cast of ‘Lovers, Wives and Tennis Players’ has been working hard in rehearsal in a quiet theater for months.
That’s all changing, starting tonight.
“When the audience gets here, laughter will startle them,” he said, adding, “The absence of laughter will terrify me.”
Peck said the play is “just entertainment.
“There’s no message. We’re not trying to sell anything. It’s just for fun.”
The audience will decide.