Your cheatin’ heart

Funtime Theater’s Cheaters is a fresh, clever affair

The cast of <i>Cheaters</i> connives, plots, argues and generally has a good time.

The cast of Cheaters connives, plots, argues and generally has a good time.

Rated 4.0

Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City was once a glorious, grand venue with a stage that attracted the celebrities of a century ago. Pending a full-scale renovation, it will be magnificent again, and one can only imagine what its next lifetime will bring.

In the meantime, it is an old building with dramatically high ceilings flecked with water stains and apologetic notes posted everywhere, promising better amenities to come.

Amid this once and future grandeur, the simplicity of Cheaters seems a bit incongruous. However, it’s a delightful surprise, like finding a gorgeous little wildflower in an untended garden.

Cheaters is an unpretentious comedy with a small cast, minimal sets and simple costuming. Thanks to a well-crafted script, solid direction and the actors’ excellent comic timing, the show delivers big laughs as well as believable characters who stay in your head the entire drive home.

The first act of the play introduces us to three troubled couples. The first are secret lovers whose affair is running out of steam. The second couple is at the beginning of an adulterous relationship. The third, an unmarried couple, argues over when or whether they will tie the knot.

Although the interactions between the three couples are quite different, the scenes are consistently rife with witty dialogue and astute observations about romantic relationships. These vignettes are highly entertaining, but the big laughs come at the end of the first act, when we realize how the three stories are connected. I won’t spoil the surprise, but I’ll just say that by intermission, I could hardly wait for the comic payoff that was promised in the second act.

The play has some brilliant moments of physical comedy, but most of the humor comes from the script’s clever dialogue. The play premiered in 1978, but the script feels fresh and appropriate today. Writer Michael Jacobs has pulled off a rare feat—writing a truly funny comedy about adultery without devolving into crudeness. In fact, a 100-year-old woman who I met at the play laughed as hard as I did at the sex jokes.

Most importantly, the actors have fun with the script. The four adulterers are well cast and all deliver memorable performances. Beth Petersen is devilishly good as Monica, a vain woman mourning her lost youth and taking it out on everyone around her. Norm Frank plays Sam, a good-natured, henpecked husband, with such honesty that I was amazed to learn this was his theater debut. Sue Higley is perfect as Grace, a woman who betrays her husband after first removing the Bible from the hotel room. She gets seriously spooked when she hears a televangelist condemn adultery and advise viewers to “pray for grace.” Butch Lynn is charming as Howard, a nearly 50-year-old who aspires to trade in his middle-aged mistress for a 19-year-old.

Christi Thunder and Mike Chitriatti demonstrate noble efforts in playing the unmarried couple, although their characters are not quite as well drawn as the four infidels.

All in all, Cheaters is a funny, big-hearted comedy that is worth the drive to Virginia City. I urge you to go this weekend. Support the massive restoration of Piper’s Opera House, have a few beers—yes, in the theater!—and enjoy some adulterous fun that won’t damage your own relationship.