Thursday, March 18, 2010

Moon Over Buffalo

The Winters Theater Company production of Ken Ludwig's 'Moon Over Buffalo' has one problem.


Four doors are present in this play's set. The presence of so many doors suggests a farce involving doors, but in this production people go out one door and come in via another door, on the opposite side of the stage. Characters exit, saying they're going outside, but they don't use the door that leads outside, because someone else is entering through that door.

A character sees somebody depart through one door, and then tells somebody else that said character left through a different door. What should be very funny just becomes confusing.

As for the plot, 'Moon Over Buffalo' is kind of a 1930s-era 'Noises Off' meets 'Waiting for Guffman.' A second-rate theater company - 'The House of Usher Repertory Theater,' jokes one character - has been forced to reduce its ranks to only five actors, who are stuck playing the Erlanger Theater in Buffalo, N.Y. ('Scranton, without the charm.')

Just in passing, the set looks more like a living room than a theater green room ... but at least it's painted green.

The company's stars, Charlotte (Christine Schiesart) and George (Phil Pittman), are over-the-hill actors who feel they just need the right show to revitalize their sagging careers.

The company has two productions in repertory: the swash-buckling 'Cyrano de Bergerac' and the Noel Coward comedy, 'Private Lives.' Both are being mounted with a very small cast: one at the matinee and the other in the evening.

The company gets word that director Frank Capra is filming a version of 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' nearby, starring Greer Garson and Ronald Coleman. When Coleman falls and breaks his leg, George receives a telephone call - from a telephone that has an ear-shattering ring - and learns that Capra is coming to check out their productions, to see if George and Charlotte might be good replacements for Coleman and Garson.

This announcement sets off a frenetic series of events: getting ready to perform, the discovery of an affair or two, Rosalind's confusion regarding the man she used to love and the man she plans to marry, George's drinking and several repairs to Cyrano's costume. The tighter, faster-paced second act rests heavily on Pittman's ability to remain drunk throughout. He delivers like a champ, nicely handling the physical comedy of a sword fight and a wrestling match, in addition to being falling-down blotto.

Schiesart does a good job in a role that was originated by Carol Burnett. Schiesart is given considerable help by costumers Germain Hupe, Ann Rost and Joanie Bryant; a red dress complements her color beautifully, and she does great things with a dramatic hat that she frequently takes off and puts back on.

Ann Rost, who always tackles wonderful droll roles, plays Charlotte's mother here: a woman who is hard of hearing and a little forgetful, who performs with the group and takes care of costumes ... and people's lives. The part is right up Rost's alley.

Joanie Bryant is earnest as Charlotte and George's daughter, Rosalind, who is tired of all the drama and just wants to settle down and raise a family. Jim Hewlett is perfect as nerdy Howard, Rosalind's boyfriend and the local TV weatherman, who is star-struck at the idea of meeting her somewhat famous parents.

JoAnn May plays Eileen, an ingenue who is pregnant with George's child. Her solution to this 'condition' nicely wraps up a rather frazzled situation, and smooths the way for the show's finale.

Trent Beeby plays Rosalind's former boyfriend, Paul, the troupe's stage manager, who has been pressed into service as one of its actors. Beeby always gives a solid performance, and this one's no exception. He and Bryant are quite funny as a couple who've broken up, but somehow can't keep their hands off each other.

The cast is rounded out by Greg Lanzaro as Richard, the Hays' attorney, who also is in love with Charlotte, and hopes to convince her to leave George and run away with him.

The clearly delighted audience chuckled wholeheartedly during the performance.

No comments: