Tuesday, August 05, 2008

On the Razzle

Tom Stoppard’s “On the Razzle,” currently presented at the Veterans Memorial Theater by Acme Theater Company, is the story of two store clerks who decide to go out on the town (“on the razzle”) while their boss is going to a parade and then meeting his fiancee who runs a women’s dress shop. Accidentally, the two guys stumble into the very same dress shop, while trying to hide from their boss. They misrepresent their identities to the dress shop owner and her friend, the women convince them to take them out to dinner at a big fancy restaurant (for which they have no money to pay).

Uh. Haven’t we seen this before? With music?

Well, yes, we have. Actually the original idea for this play came from a 19th century Austrian farce (“Einen Fux will er sich machen “) which spawned Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker” in 1938 which again spawned Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!”in 1968. “On the Razzle” (1981) takes much of the plot of “Matchmaker,” but eliminates the matchmaker herself, so you will find no Dolly Levi, but much of the rest of the plot elements will be very familiar, with a little “Shop Around the Corner” (or “You’ve Got Mail,” depending on your age) thrown in for good measure.

The production, directed by Daniel “Pheelyks” Guttenberg, marks the new era in Acme history, with the retirement of founder David Burmester, who (wrote and) directed his last Acme play in May. In fact, this was the very first opening night of an Acme play I’ve attended where Burmester was not in the audience.

The Stoppard play is very funny, replete with puns and spoonerisms. Crystal clear diction and impeccable timing are necessary to get maximum effect and sadly, this was not always the case with the young cast.

Egypt Howard has the role of Herr Zangler, the tongue twisted shop owner going off to meet his fiancee in the big city. Ms. Howard did well conveying the part of a gruff old man, but so much of her dialog was rushed and muffled that one had to strain to get the humor, much of which was unfortunately lost. This is particularly disappointing in the opening scene, which needs to be performed with the timing and clarity of a stand-up comedian.

I thought perhaps her problem was that the lines were too rushed until Alex Kravitz came on stage as Weinberl, Zangler’s top clerk. Kravitz’s delivery was equally as rapid fire, but every word crystal clear, every joke hitting the mark.

Kane Chai, as Christopher, Weinberl’s assistant, is likewise wonderful, skillfully handling the lines and successfully getting the most out of the humor of his role.

Delany Pelz as Melchior, the “new man” that Zangler hires, occasionally muffles her lines, but her stage presence is so electric that it really doesn’t matter. We get the humor whether the words are crisp or not...and most of the time her delivery is just fine.

Torin Lusebrink, playing Sonders, the debt-ridden suitor of Zangler’s niece, Marie, is a very promising young performer. He has an easy manner on stage and is one of those actors you enjoy watching.

Emily Tracy, always lovely to watch, plays Frau Fischer, the widow who has her eye on Weinberl and who has a surprise or two up her sleeve.

Pabo Frias has the small role of the lecherous Coachman, lusting after every woman he sees (“is she a go-er?”) with an inordinate fascination for breasts (“are they round like apples, or pointed like pears?”). He was funny in the role, but I would like to have seen it played a bit broader.

Vivian Breckenridge is very funny as the French maid Lisette, who is having a liaison in the kitchen with the Coachman, but we only know it from her assorted stages of dishabille as she runs to answer the front door.

Others in the cast include Carrie Miller as Madame Knorr, Kathleen Johnston as Zangler’s niece Marie, Anna Eckert-Kramer as Gertrude, Emma Kurtz as Miss Blumenblatt, Hannah May as the Foreigner, Sean Olivares as the tailor Hupfer, Danielle Wogulis as Phillipine, Jeremy Reinhard as the Constable, and GG Gilbert-Igelsrud as the Ragamuffin.

John Ramos’ set design consists of a huge white platform with a building wall in the middle, which allowed easy change of scenery by rotating the platform (also fun to see the colorful costumes against the white while the cast was changing scenes)

This first outing without Burmester at the helm shows that its founder has left Acme in good hands. The show could use a little work on delivery in spots, but is still a very funny, very enjoyable production.

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