Love complications ensue when four couples find themselves stuck together under one roof in David Ewing’s overlong, only intermittently amusing romantic sitcom Snowed Inn, now getting its World Premiere engagement at NoHo’s El Portal Theatre.

Though billed as “The New Face Of Farce,” Snowed Inn seems unaware of what makes a farce farcical.

To begin with, there is nothing at all outlandish about its set-up.

Master farceur Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing had its playboy hero making the horrified discovery that his rotating stewardess girlfriends were all three set to arrive simultaneously at his Paris flat. Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies had its traveling Shakespearean thespians donning female drag to impersonate a pair of long-lost sisters set to inherit a fortune. Michael Cooney’s Cash On Delivery, an El Portal smash last December, had its Social Security-deceiving protagonist discovering he’s about to be found out and going to outrageous lengths to prevent this from happening.

Snowed Inn has its four couples snowed in. That’s it.

No one puts on a disguise, there’s no case of mistaken identity, and though Snowed Inn’s ski lodge set appears farce-ready with its half-dozen doors, they exist not for characters to hide (or be hidden) behind but simply to facilitate scene changes. (Couple A exits so that Couple B can enter for their scene together before exiting so that Couple C can do the same.)

Ewing’s characters are straight out of TV sitcom land, an agreeable bunch to be sure, but far from the extravagant batch you’d find in a Camoletti, Ludwig, or Cooney farce.

Innkeeper Jake (Jackson Kendall) pines for right-hand-gal Chantal (Kelsey Walmer). Scottish skier Will (Bryan Forrest) falls for just-arrived inn guest Sarah (Raleigh Lench). Mismatched honeymooners Mike and Bianca (Michael Lie Murphy and understudy Lennon Hobson) deal with her unfounded jealousy. Older couple George and Rose (Matthew Horn and Deborah Moran) hope to rekindle marital sparks.

Snowed Inn may run a lengthy two-and-three-quarter hours, but its plot can be summed up in a single paragraph.

Incurable romantic (and equally incurable stumbebum) Jake tries hard but can’t manage to tell Chantal he loves her. Will finds himself equally incapable of declaring his undying love for Sarah (no matter that they’ve only just met). Bianca catches Mike in some compromising (albeit entirely innocent) clutches with Chantal and Bianca, then spends most of the play fuming behind closed bedroom door. George pretends to be deaf so as not to have to deal with Rose’s wifely demands, then gets discovered.

And that’s about it.

Act One does offer its fair amount of romcom charms. Klutzy Jake and dorky Will are pretty darned irresistible each one in his own way and it’s fun to see them attempt with varying degrees of failure to win their dream girls’ hearts.

Still, if there’s anything you will never in a million years find in a Camoletti, Ludwig, or Cooney farce, it’s characters sitting around shooting the breeze, and it is precisely this kind of breeze-shooting that makes Act Two drag on and on and on.

Under Ewing’s frenetic direction, three cast members prove standouts.

Kendall’s butterfingered innkeeper is leading-man handsome and charismatic (and a terrific physical comedian to boot). Forrest’s sexy Scottish lug shows off plenty of geeky charm (and wears a kilt like nobody’s business). And like her two male costars, it’s easy to imagine Lench’s scintillating Sarah lighting up your favorite TV sitcom.

The rest of the cast do their darnedest with the material they are given, though Horn and Moran have the added burden of playing 60ish characters that ought to have been cast more age-appropriately.

Scenic, lighting, costume, and sound design are all uncredited. The inn itself has a nicely rustic look, but its many doors appear to lead only into walls. Performers sport character-appropriate wear under professional if not spectacular lighting. Without amplification, actors’ voices tend to be swallowed by the high-ceilinged El Portal.

Forrest and Hobson score bonus points, he for his fight choreography and she for some exhilarating Riverdance moves.

Snowed Inn is produced by Forrest and Hobson. Ewing is executive producer. Kim Iosue is stage manager and Josh Brandeis is assistant stage manager.

Few theatrical genres are as tough to master as farce. (Perhaps that’s why there are so few master farceurs.) Playwright Ewing deserves credit for taking on its many challenges. If only Snowed Inn had what it takes to truly hit the farcical mark.

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The El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
December 11, 2016

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