Last night’s performance of Lie, Cheat and Genuflect at Conklin’s Barn II Dinner Theatre outside of Goodfield was a completely different experience than was Total Nonstop Action Wrestling or Dog Sees God.
Sitting only a few miles from Interstate 74 is a giant barn built in 1940 and that can now hold 250 people, according to a short informative sheet. Chaunce Conklin transformed it and opened it up as a dinner theatre in 1975, effectively defining his building as a “found space.” As patrons filed in for the dinner buffet downstairs, some may have imagined what it was like when it served as the cattle show ring. Seating continues all the way up into the rafters of the building on balconies and tiered levels, so there isn’t a bad seat in the barn.
Unbeknownst to first-time guests, some of the actors are also the waiters. They wore black pants, white shirts, and red vests until the performance. At intermission, they came back in their character’s costume and offered their audience members more drinks while chatting about the performance so far.
The play was written by “that crazy duo” William Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, authors of several previous successful shows at the Barn, according to a press release in the Woodford Courier. In Lie, Cheat and Genuflect, two brothers schemed to get at their belt-buckle-inventing grandfather’s money fearing they’ve been left out of the will. Tom convinced his brother Billy to dress up as their long-lost cousin Lisa so she couldn’t get any of it. Tom decided “Lisa” was going to be a nun. As the story went along and newer characters who bought the brothers’ act were introduced, it became elaborately more complex to maintain, until they were finally caught and, as they say, the jig was up.
A charter coach from Cincinnati, Ohio, was parked outside the barn, confirming the hypothesis that the Barn likely catered mainly to an elderly audience. However, just because the audience was older doesn’t mean they understood all the jokes. While Billy was dressed in the habit as his nun-cousin Lisa and talking about ventriloquism, he mentioned that “Jeff Dunham was an altar boy at our church.” Maybe about a quarter of the nearly full house chuckled.
The humor focused on “old-style wordplay and slapstick in the tradition of the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, and the Three Stooges,” according to the press release. A few characters got smacked upside the head, but lots of humor early on stemmed from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the opening scene, as Tom and Billy snuck into their grandfather’s mansion to find the will, they heard noise and hide under drop cloths over the furniture. The maid and the lawyer sat down on the cloths, and when Billy whimpered, they thought it was the ghost of Tom and Billy’s grandfather, Mr. Buckle. Later, Tom decides he’s going to drug their cousin Lisa with Novocain to hide her so Billy can double as her. Tom handed the needle to Billy, who ended up sitting on it, rendering his legs useless.
Billy was also slow to pick up on words sometimes. Having failed to drug who they think is their cousin Lisa, Tom instructed Billy to grab her and follow him into the closet. As Tom went into the closet, Billy grabbed her rear before letting go and following Tom.
Possibly the only negative was that this play was nearly two and a half hours long. With only one setting, inside the grandfather’s mansion, the second half seemed like it went at least fifteen to twenty minutes too long. Some of the rising action was still going on, it seemed, when the climax came and all was resolved. The end just came so quick. The lady taking reservations on the phone said it would be over about 10:00, but none of the old folks started getting back on that coach until after 10:30.
Overall, this comedy was worth the $31 on a Thursday night. For nearly four hours, guests ate good food before enjoying a fun performance from actors who clearly enjoyed juggling their duties as waiters and performers.