Friday, February 21, 2014
Theater review: Moon Over Buffalo in Richardson is a two-hour laugh fest
You can see the punch lines coming a mile away, but that's OK.
RICHARDSON Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo at Richardson Theatre Centre is an affectionate farce that lampoons a B-grade, Barrymore-like acting family. It is high-spirited, cheeky and uproarious, and I enjoyed its madcap energy from start to finish. Buffalo starts its story off with the introduction of a sweet, young engaged couple, Rosalinda and Howard. Rosalinda has brought Howard to the backstage green room of a touring repertory theatre company where he will be introduced to her parents, George and Charlotte Hay, the aged ingénues and stars of the company. The Hays have lived and breathed the theatre all their life, but Rosalinda is looking forward to a normal life with her weatherman fiancé, far away from her eccentric upbringing.
Everything that happens after that is just too silly for me to explain in any great detail. It is enough to write that true hilarity ensues from a generous helping of misunderstandings, double entendres, door-slams, mistaken identities, bait and switches, slow burns, double takes, pratfalls, and a grandma that conveniently can’t hear a gosh darn thing. And that’s only the first act, folks.
It does not matter that you can see the punch lines coming a mile away through many of the set-ups because the joy of this lovely romp is in the journey. Janette Oswald makes her Richardson Theatre Centre directing debut. She has a wealth of gifted cast members at her fingertips, but this play’s success is well guided in her confident hands. Oswald and the entire cast know exactly when to apply the brakes on the pacing, letting the energy breathe, then put pressure on the gas pedal at just the right moments.
The cast is so well-rounded that no individual performance can be declared a scene-stealer. Dan Slay gets the least amount of stage time as the boring attorney, Richard, but his portrayal is anything but as he makes the most of his time with a dour stuffiness to his facial expressions that was humorous and befitting of the character. Allison Bret plays the naïve and proper Eileen, who may or may not be George Hay’s mistress. Bret has the least showy role of the play, but she is graceful and airy and hilariously moves from one point of the stage to another as if she were the damsel in distress.
Fradonna Griffin plays Ethel, the hard of hearing grandmother. Griffin is a breath of fresh air in this role. She didn’t succumb to portraying the withered characteristics that the dialogue suggests by slowing down the comedic timing. She is sharp and vivacious and her punch lines have bite.
Robert Gemaehlich plays the loyal stage manager and budding actor whom Rosalinda’s parents believe is the one that got away. Gemaehlich’s character is the most grounded in reality. The actor adds such an air of levity amidst the chaos, that it is all the more rewarding when everyone now and then he is forced to blow his top.
Playing the unassuming fiancé, Howard, is Mathew Stepanek. He gives an appropriate “aw-shucks” portrayal that earns some of the biggest laughs as his character is introduced to the magic and allure of the theatre. His interpretation maintains a bewildered air of innocence that always struck a high note, whether the character was mistaken as a military soldier or expressing his passion for “barometric pressure.”
Hillary Gregory-Allen, as the Hay’s somewhat estranged daughter, Rosalind, successfully pulls off a tricky feat. In the first act she must play the straight role to all the buffoonery surrounding her, but in the second act she becomes part of that buffoonery. Hillary excels at both and transitions into the fold seamlessly. She is especially effective in an extended monologue that requires her character to ad-lib in a play-within-a-play scenario until her scene partner rather lately joins in.
At the center of this revolving door of characters is a sweet romance between George and Charlotte Hay, played by actors Martin Sinise and Leigh Wyatt Moore. The first few scenes these actors share are wonderfully playful and brimming with chemistry. It would seem that for these two, the sheer ordeal of these characters rehearsing scenes together acts as a sort of unspoken foreplay.
Moore has created an incisive and kooky blend of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett with her facial expressions and physical mannerisms. Interestingly enough, this very role marked Carol Burnett’s return to Broadway after a 30 year hiatus. There is a running gag about an “Apache Woman” that was clearly written with Carol Burnett in mind, but Moore makes the comedic bit all her own.
Sinise must tackle the most physical demanding of the roles and gives a tireless performance that was a wonderful concoction of Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole as the desperate-for-fame alcoholic actor. His character is billed as a “walking ham,” but he never crosses the line of ever being too cheesy or over the top. He’s always impressively towing that line.
Christopher Dean’s set designis appropriately functional and unglamorousfor a backstage green room. More importantly, the doors are well hinged, considering the amount of abuse they get throughout the evening.
The team of costumers, Rachael Lindley, Clara Jamison, Janette Oswald and Elizabeth Atwater, did an outstanding job. They chose a color palette that pops out from the neutral brown of the set, but also allow each actor’s silhouette to be well-fitted, a must for such an intimate venue. The costumes are so appropriate to each character that I was able to predict which romantic characters would end up with each other, simply on the basis of their costume’s stylistic compatibility.
I wish I could be more in depth about why this was such a well made comedy production. The admittedly embarrassing thing is this … about 20 minutes into my viewing experience I turned off my critic brain and become simply became immersed as an audience member, because Moon Over Buffalo was doing such a great job of keeping me entertained in a captivating way. That is the lasting impression I was left with - Richardson Theatre Centre’s Moon Over Buffalo’s script, director and actors are perfectly compatible onstage, creating great chemistry together and mixing it up for a thoroughly enjoyable two-hour laugh fest.
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