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It’s All About Timing In ‘Flaming Idiots’ Comedy

In a comedy with five shutting doors, timing is crucial.

Timing with lines. Timing with reactions. And timing with entrances and exits.

“I’ve been working with the actors to get the timing correct, so as to squeeze out maximum laughter,” said Brian Nichols, director of the comedy, “Flaming Idiots” opening tonight (Thursday, March 31) at Basile Westfield Playhouse.

“We are at a place right now in our world where we need to laugh for a while,” he said.

That’s why Nichols chose the comedy to direct his first time at the Playhouse.

“I submitted this show for Westfield because I thought their new theater facility would be a perfect venue,” said Nichols, who assistant directed the Playhouse’s production of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” with director Veronique Duprey in the fall of 2019 at the old playhouse in Eagletown. The new playhouse, with indoor bathrooms, opened in 2020.

“Flaming Idiots,” by Tom Rooney, is a contemporary farce that takes place in a restaurant kitchen, and runs for eight performances, through April 10. Tickets are still available.

While “Flaming Idiots” is Nichols’ first time to be “the director” at the Playhouse, it’s actually his 25th time to direct.

Nichols loves comedies and acting in them. “I find it much easier to act in a comedy than in other genres,” he said. “There is much more liberty, I think, to the character’s presence on stage.”

There are five swinging doors in the play: an exterior door, an inner-office door, a walk-in freezer door and a pair of swinging doors. “They are included to complete the typical farce element of multiple doors, shutting and opening. “The crucial thing is with the swinging doors. At the height of the play, there is often a character going out while another is entering simultaneously. It is meant for comedic effects. Much rehearsal time is spent on getting this timing down,” Nichols said.

He said, “Reactions alone can spur laughter. Dramas, for example, while great to have, seem to be more prescriptive in character reactions.”

He previously directed this show, which was well received, about six years ago at Clinton County Civic Theatre in Frankfort.

Costuming for this play is “mostly uncomplicated,” he said. “It is set in the present, so costumes are not too hard to come by.” Specialty costuming involved outfitting a mounted patrol police officer, a choir robe for the body, and a chef’s uniform, he said.

The show is set in a dingy kitchen of a dilapidated restaurant in New York City. So getting such items as a stainless-steel prep table was a bit challenging. But the most challenging is “the dead body, which is a prominent part of the play,” he said. “We want it to appear as real as possible. We used a dummy figure and placed a creepy mask of a man on it. It does look like a real dead body.”

Any prop challenges? “The Flaming Idiots cocktails, which have to be lit on fire,” Nichols said. “Obviously, we’re not allowed to use an open flame on stage, but we were able to secure special cups which appear to be flaming … in a way.”

And the audience should be warned: “We also had to obtain a gun, which actually goes off three times each performance.”

Nichols has been involved with theater in some capacity for 45 years, having started at age 10. “It is my passionate hobby and outlet for artistic expression,” he said. “I enjoy being both on stage and directing, and I like to balance the two. What I enjoy about directing is the creativity. I literally feel that I start with a blank canvas, and by the end of the process, I feel as though I’ve painted a portrait. Each production is different, and the ‘portraits’ are never alike.”

Nichols, 55, was born in Muncie and grew up in Indianapolis, graduated from Southport High School in 1985 and from Indiana University in 1990, with a master’s degree in 1997 from Indiana Wesleyan University. He taught English, Speech and Theater for 20 years. Nichols left teaching several years ago and is now a training supervisor for the Department of Child Services, supervising trainers of new and veteran family case managers.

The “Flaming Idiots” cast is comprised of theater veterans and of relative newcomers who have done some theater in the past but now are returning to it, he said. “All are doing a great job developing their respective characters.”

Nichols said, “This show offers a solace from the pandemic, inflation costs and the Ukraine War. It provides a departure from all of that, if only for a brief while.”

He said, “You will walk away from the show with a little lighter load on your shoulders.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.

MEET THE CAST:

Ethan Romba, Fishers, as Phil; Austin Uebelhor, Indianapolis, Carl; Jeffrey Haber, Indianapolis, Task; Austin Hookfin, Indianapolis, Eugene; Chris Taylor, Frankfort, Ernesto; Wendy Brown, Indianapolis, Bernadette; Ashley Engstrom, Westfield, Jayne Fryman; and Eric Bowman, Noblesville, Louie.                           

MEET THE PRODUCTION CREW:

Director, Brian Nichols, Indianapolis; assistant director, Aaron Moon, Lafayette; director intern, Rich Steinberg, Indianapolis; co-producers, Teresa Skelton and Kate Hinman, both of Westfield; stage manager, Chrysa Kennon, Westfield; lights/sound operator, Aaron Ploof, Noblesville; light design and sound design, Brian Nichols; Props, Susie Walden, Noblesville; Costumes, Elizabeth Ruddell, Zionsville; set construction, Robert Rave, Zionsville; and set decorating, Patricia Boyle, Indianapolis.