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THE PRODUCTION of "Tons of Money" at the Showboat Festival Theatre in Port Colborne, Ont., owes its success to the fact that Showboat has its priorities in order.

Without all the money in the world, the theater has wisely lavished its resources where they belong -- on acting talent. Four Equity actors take the leading roles, giving the summer stock company of 10 a solid foundation.

It's hardly an opulent affair -- the group performs in the auditorium of the Lake Shore Catholic High School, a gaping barn of a hall with a stage better suited to symphonic band than to drama. The modest set is barely lighted -- apparently for lack of equipment -- and the costumes, though adequate, are not extravagant.

This is, after all, genuine summer stock: six performances and then on to the next show.

Even without the frills, the current production of "Tons of Money," a bouncing and vigorous farce by Will Evans and Valentine adapted by Alan Ayckbourn, is quite admirable for its intelligibility and its unflagging tempo. The evening holds promise for the five comedies to follow.

In "Tons of Money" we meet Louise and Aubrey Allington, a charming if bizarre couple born to wealth, but unable to manage money. The two have fallen seriously into debt and neither is of a disposition to earn a living. As luck would have it, Aubrey learns that he has inherited tons of money from an estranged relative.

Unwilling to pay off their creditors with the new-found money, the two conspire to stage Aubrey's death, leaving Louise free to marry the next in line to inherit -- none other than Aubrey himself, disguised as his own long-lost cousin.

Karen McDonald and Brian Coatsworth are uproariously perfect as the bankrupt couple keen to cheat their creditors.

This brew of no-holds-barred inanity is entirely at the mercy of expert playing. McDonald and Coatsworth -- through every cornball gag and outrageous bit of buffoonery -- are abundantly up to the task.

The production, under the direction of Blake Heathcote, bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1981 Shaw Festival production of the same play directed by Derek Goldby. Whether or not Heathcote owes a debt to him, he has approximated a poor man's version of Goldby's frantic pace, light touch and generous hand with high jinks.

The boisterous merrymaking is helped along by the comedic skill of Eleanor Yeoman as the Allingtons' level-headed aunt, and the deadpan humor of Theresa Wheeler as a parlor maid. Doug MacDonald gives a sturdy performance as Giles the gardener. Among the company's Equity actors, only Kevin O'Donovan, as Sprules the butler, seems to have been misplaced in his role. Perhaps, in this rolling rep season, more appropriate parts are in his future. Here, however, he is too young and too stilted to sustain the oily Sprules.

Heathcote has rounded out the production with suitable-to-satisfactory performances from the generally younger members of the company in the supporting roles.

Performances continue today and Saturday at 8 p.m.

Future productions include the comedy-drama "The Gin Game," Thursday through July 14; the comedy "Scapino," based on a Moliere farce, July 19 to 28; the farce "Once in a Blue Moon," Aug. 2 to 11, and Agatha Christie's mystery "The Mousetrap," Aug. 16 to 25. The box office number is (416) 834-0833.

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