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Improbable Frequency

This darlin' musical about an Irish spy during World War II is best suited to well-versed intellectuals. logo
Cathy White, Marty Rea, Peter Hanly, and
Darragh Kelly in Improbable Frequency
(© Carol Rosegg)
Tristram Faraday (Peter Hanly), the protagonist of the darlin' musical Improbable Frequency, now at 59E59 Theatres under Lynne Parker's direction, is a crossword lover -- he calls himself a "cruciverbalist" -- whose devotion to the pastime incongruously leads him to become an MI5 spy in Dublin during World War II, when the Irish free state was supposed to be neutral but wasn't.

If librettist-lyricist Arthur Riordan dreamed up Faraday because he wanted to satirize his country's paranoid wartime concerns, he has succeeded merrily. Perhaps merrily to a fault, since he has almost too many rib-tickling notions, making the show a fair deal longer than it needs to be. On the other hand, too much of a good thing is never a situation about which to become overly exercised.

The corduroy-suited, Fair-Isle-sweater-vested Faraday -- who speaks in rhymed couplets (just like the people whom he encounters) -- plants himself in Dublin's Red Bank Restaurant, which is rumored to be a hangout for Nazi sympathizers. The unorthodox secret agent suspects the habitues may have something to do with the radio program to which they listen, which plays songs with titles such as "'Neath the Sunny Skies So Bright" that could be alerting the Luftwaffe to weather conditions suitable for blitzing England.

Also frequenting the Red Bank are English press attache and lauded poet John Betjeman (Louis Lovett), Irish author Flann O'Brien (Darragh Kelly), fellow agent Green (Cathy White), and cutie-pie Philomena (Sarah-Jane Drummey). Lolling at the nearby Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies is Austrian expatriate physicist Erwin Schrodinger (Marty Rea), who may be working on overscale appliances that could be related to the presumed reports sent to the enemy.

So much for the foundation on which Riordan builds a plot even he mightn't completely follow. What the slap-happy, hapless Faraday learns or doesn't learn about the actual goings-on is less important than the amusement Riordan is after with his delightfully verbose songs (with music by the two-man team called Bell Helicopter) and screwball characters (outfitted in Kathy Strachan's properly spoofy costumes).

As for the songs, they seem calculatedly derivative of other writers. The opening song, "Be Careful Not to Patronise the Irish," tips its cocked hat to Noel Coward's "Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans," while "We're All in the Gutter" takes its title from a line of Oscar Wilde. Moreover, the attuned ear can also detect Joyce and even Sheridan. As a consequence of Riordan's ultra-literacy, the well-versed patron may be the ideal audience for this brash offering, but even those who like their entertainment brashly burlesqued will revel in the show's saucy performances.

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