All that’s missing in Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of Wendy MacLeod’s comedy Women in Jeopardy! is the laugh track. The director-described “brand-new classic, chick flick rom com” takes us into the lives of three divorced women of a certain age—ringleader Mary (Anne Tolpegin), sidekick Jo (Rosalyn Coleman) and exasperating foil Liz (Elizabeth Meadows Rouse).
The trio’s Wa of book clubs, chardonnay and fun runs is disturbed when Liz starts dating a dentist named Jackson (wait for it…) Scull (Joe Gately) who is either dangerously creepy or way-on-the-spectrum socially tone deaf (regardless, she should dump this chump).
Meanwhile the disappearance of a dental hygienist from Dr. Scull’s practice, leads our Lucy (Mary) and Ethyl (Jo) on a conclusion-jumping chase to rescue their friend from the diabolical dentist. There’s a wooden police officer, Sgt. Kirk Sponsülar (also played by Joe Gately) and two incredibly stupid young people Trenner (CJ Strong) and Amanda (Betsy Helmer) and a camping trip to help round out the fun.
Let the zaniness begin!
Only. It never quite does. Women in Jeopardy! is trying so hard to be funny that it is not. With a grimace in the place of the smile, the cast digs so hard into to the laugh lines I was worried they were going to step out of their shoes and launch into the house. Meanwhile, the characters have no depth—the audience is given no clue who these people are or where they come from (aside from a recurring joke about Mary’s gay ex-husband) nor, as it becomes obvious at the end of the play, where they are going.
The bright spots in the evening are Gately’s stiff, “there, there little lady” cop and Mary’s deadpan response to young Trenner’s advances. CJ Strong’s Trenner earns some honest laughs in the tradition of Kirby from Fraiser. And Amanda? Why did MacLeod have to write her so utterly brainless and unlikeable? I get that she’s the young, busty ingenue but would some small spark of wisdom in there have hurt?
The audience, always generous here in Utah, gamely chuckled along but when the surprise ending clunked out, I could feel the collective shrug. And seriously Liz, that guy? Eww. Though it is billed as a mash-up of Thelma and Louise and First Wives Club, it is most certainly neither. Women in Jeopardy! actually is more of a mid-season, throwaway episode of Three’s Company. (You know, the one where the gang thinks Mr. Roper is a murderer?). Maybe the producers should throw a laugh track in for the rest of the run to add a veneer of hipster irony.
Sorry PTC, I love you guys but this one misses the mark.
Women in Jeopardy! runs through Feb. 25, 2017 at Pioneer Memorial Theatre on the University of Utah campus. For tickets and showtimes, click here.