Go Erie Review

All An Act’s ‘Last Serve’ whips up witty banter, comical nuances

After the ailing Sir Winston names Master Fifi the beneficiary of his vast estate, it may take all nine of the fluffy feline’s lives to escape the clutches of the millionaire’s jealous staff, niece and personal physician. Which plot will prevail in John and Karl Kaasik’s “The Servant’s Last Serve,” All An Act’s latest farce?

Despite the menace inherent in the premise and some creatively presented scenes demonstrating the extent of Fifi’s peril, this comedy directed by Larry Lewis has a more sedate tone than most, with the humor driven less by physical humor and more by dialogue.

This calls for an extra-attentive audience as British, Irish and Southern accents tango with the Kaasiks’ witty wordplay. Keep an ear out for Charlotte native Meredith’s colorful colloquialisms, Sir Winston’s accidental double entendres and mangled metaphors, Inspector Woodmore’s cognitive leaps, and a truly brain-boggling exchange between maid Gladys and cook Esther early in the first act.

Lewis’ elegant set is dominated by wall hangings, which include an opulent rug, numerous paintings and an enormous portrait of Sir Winston and his beloved Fifi. The cat’s own expansive manor is also on prominent display, contributing to several comical situations.

Christine Pawlowski brings a delightfully boisterous energy to the role of Esther, and she and Teni Siano have an especially strong onstage rapport. Pawlowski’s flirtatious banter with Jerry Villella as long-suffering butler Leonard is great fun as well.

While maneuvering around the stage in a wheelchair, Bryan Toy projects a sense of arrogant eccentricity that is amplified when he addresses or refers to Fifi, who is portrayed by a lifelike plush cat that comes equipped with movement and sound effects. Though he is the last character to appear, Karl Seman gets some of the biggest laughs in his bombastic turn as the inspector hired to find the missing kitty.

While it might not have quite the polish of a work by Ray Cooney or Neil Simon, this Erie premiere production is as enticing as catnip to those who enjoy this company’s comedies and mysteries with equal fervor.