Jim Hesselman Takes on Farce with ‘Funny Money’

By Remy Sisk

If you’ve ever seen a show at Derby Dinner Playhouse, you’ve probably in some way seen the work of Jim Hesselman. Whether directing or acting, Hesselman is a regular contributor to the success at Derby Dinner, and is additionally an associate professor of theatre at Indiana University Southeast. Currently on Hesselman’s plate—in addition to starring as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol: the Musical”—is directing “Funny Money,” a hysterical farce that will run January 10 through February 18 at Derby Dinner. Though farce is admittedly quite difficult, if there’s anyone up for the challenge, it’s certainly Hesselman.

“I’ve directed every kind of show there is at Derby,” Hesselman says, but “Funny Money” isn’t a run-of-the-mill show. While it is indeed a farce, the director emphasizes that the structure of the piece lends itself more toward traditional comedy. “With farce, especially modern farce, you just have a series of complications that keep growing and growing and growing,” Hesselman describes. “This one’s a little different though. I still would call it a farce, but it’s much more of a comedy in that the dilemma is the same one from the moment we find out in the beginning what’s happened—it’s just a matter of time.”

The play, which was adapted into a movie in 2006 starring Chevy Chase, follows Henry, a mild-mannered CPA who inadvertently switches briefcases on his commute home from work, mistaking one full of cash for his ordinary one.

Jim Hesselman

Henry decides to keep the money, but as the owner now has Henry’s briefcase, it’s only a matter of time until he tracks Henry down. Written by the master of farce Ray Cooney, “Funny Money” is a hilarious piece of theatre that’s sure to guarantee a night out you won’t soon forget.

“The title says it – it’s funny,” Hesselman maintains. “You don’t have to think a whole lot. You just have to come and laugh at the characters. I think it’s the same reason why people go and sit for four hours to watch a sitcom being filmed—I don’t think you go to learn something; you go because you’re going to have a good time.”

But in order to successfully bring a funny text to life, you need someone at the helm who knows just how to actualize the fine nuance of the piece without sending it over the top. Fortunately, Hesselman is well aware of the fragility of farce and relates that he kept that in mind while rehearsing the show with his cast. “I know a lot of people will disagree with this but the hardest thing to direct and act in is a very good farce,” he says. “I’m not knocking drama, but it’s not as hard as comedy. And the hardest comedy is farce because it involves timing and believability—you have to believe the most ridiculous things in order to make them laugh. You can do good and bad versions of everything but if you do a bad farce, it’s like having a souffle that didn’t rise at all.”

Thanks to Hesselman’s experience, knowledge and passion for theatre, however, the soufflee of “Funny Money” is sure to beautifully—and hilariously—rise to perfection. VT

“Funny Money”

Derby Dinner Playhouse

January 10 – February 18, 2018