“The theater is our lifeline to humanity — Without it we’d all be Republicans”

moon-over-buffalouserpic=yorickI’ve written before about how much I enjoy farce. Be it “Lend Me a Tenor” at the Pasadena Playhouse back in 1992, Black Comedy” at the REP in 2006, a revival of Noises Off” at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2003, Don’t Dress for Dinner” at REP in 2006, Is He Dead?” at ICT in 2009, or many others — you can always depend on farce for a laugh. So when I saw that Wasatch Theatrical Ventures (FB) was doing Ken Ludwig‘s farce “Moon over Buffalo” at the Grove Theatre Center (FB) in Burbank (where we had seen an excellent production of “Inherit the Wind” earlier in the year), the only question was when I could fit it into my schedule. Luckily, I was able to find space on closing weekend — so last night saw us in Burbank (where it was hot hot hot) seeing a farce (we where much luckier than my cousin, who was in the Rose Bowl taking her daughter to see some unknown boy band).

What makes a good farce a farce? The director of last night’s show, Kiff Scholl (FB1, FB2) wrote in the program that a farce has a number of rules: (1) lots of doors; (2) lots of confusion; (3) lots of physical comedy; and lots of improbably plot twists. What he doesn’t mention is that a good farce also needs good timing, a good comprehension of what is funny and what is not, and what is supposed to be funny and what is not. The latter is important: the actors shouldn’t be playful in a scene that in the stage reality isn’t funny, but in the real-world is. In essence, what this means for a farce is that the audience is in on the joke, but the actors don’t see it at all. In fact, in the farcical world, the absurd is perfectly normal, but it isn’t quite to the level of absurd (at least Ionesco absurd) yet. Confused yet.

Good writing is also important. The title of this post is one of the quotes from this show. I didn’t write down others, but did some searches post-facto. Here are some other lines to give you a taste:

  • “This is Buffalo, New York. It’s like. Scranton without the charm.”
  • “What? Bad news in this company? The House of Usher Repertory Theatre?”

You’re probably wondering what Moon in Buffalo is about. As with any farce, giving too many details will spoil the jokes, so here is how Ken Ludwig (the author) describes it on his web page about the show (slightly augmented):  “In the madcap comedy tradition of Lend me a Tenor, the hilarious Moon Over Buffalo centers on George and Charlotte Hay, fading stars of the 1950’s. At the moment, they’re playing Private Lives and Cyrano De Bergerac in rep in Buffalo, New York with 5 actors. On the brink of a disastrous split-up caused by George’s dalliance with a young ingénue (Eileen), they receive word that they might just have one last shot at stardom: Frank Capra is coming to town to see their matinee, and if likes what he sees, he might cast them in his movie remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Unfortunately for George and Charlotte, everything that could go wrong does go wrong, abetted by a visit from their daughter Rosalind’s clueless fiancé Howard (a TV weatherman from Buffalo) and hilarious uncertainty about which play they’re actually performing, caused by Charlotte’s deaf old stage-manager mother Ethel who hates every bone in George’s body.” Add to this a stage manager Paul, who is Rosalind’s former boyfriend, and Richard, who is both George’s lawyer and who wants to be Charlotte’s lover and next husband, and …. well you get the idea.

In farce, performances are key. Performances without the right timing or humor will torpedo a show. Luckily, the cast in this show gets things right. In the lead position are Mark Belnick (FB) as George Hays and Kimberly Lewis (FB) as Charlotte Hays. Belnick (who doesn’t need to act (if you follow his previous link), but loves to act) captures the hamminess of the character well — it is said of him in the show that he “is a walking ham — they should stick cloves in him and serve him with pineapple.” He handles the physical comedy well and excels at the requisite overacting the character calls for. As his wife, Charlotte, Lewis also captures the long-term actor well. She’s at her best in her interactions with Richard (her lover) and with George.

In the second character tier are Keri Safran (FB) as Rosalind Hays, Chuck Raucci as Howard (her fiancee), Paul Galliano (FB, FB2) as Paul (the stage manager and Rosalind’s former beau), and Carol Herman (FB) as Ethel (Rosalind’s hard-of-hearing grandmother). Safran handles Rosalind quite well — she has the timing and ability to play the daughter of an acting family who wants to get out of the family business, but the universe is conspiring to not let her escape. Raucci captures the clueless weatherman well, especially as someone who has no idea what he has gotten into. Galliano kept reminding me of perhaps a young cross between Bob Saget and John Stamos — handsome with good comic timing and reactions. Lastly Herman captured the befuddled old woman well.

In the last character tier were Sarah Randall Hunt (FB) as Eileen and Paul Michael Nieman (FB) as Richard. You can tell this is the third character role tier because all actors have three names :-).  Hunt seemed a little bit cold in her first few scenes as Eileen, but in her last scene you could see a wonderful personality and warmth shining through, so I’m guessing the earlier scenes were intentionally cold given the craziness of the characters. Nieman seemed appropriately blustery and forceful as the lawyer who wanted Charlotte. Neither character was involved in the actual mechanics of the farce much, although they may have been precipitating catalysts.

In general, the strong comic acting combined with the good direction from the aforementioned Kiff Scholl (FB1, FB2) combined to produce a funny show that, for the most part, enhanced the material.

Turning to the technical: The set (designed by Adam Haas Hunter (FB)) worked reasonably well to create the green room with the requisite lots of doors. The lighting by Michael Gend (FB) set the mood well, and the sound design by Daniel Hoal (FB) was mostly reasonable, although the mood music was a bit loud.  The costumes by Michael Mullen (FB)worked well for both Cyrano and Private Lives, as well as the Green Room scenes. Mike Mahaffey was the fight director. Erica Lawrence/FB was the stage manager. “Moon Over Buffalo” was produced by Racquel Lehrman and Victoria Watson/FB of Theatre Planners. (FB).

Alas, the last performance of “Moon over Buffalo” is happening as I type this; alas, this writeup was delayed due to this morning’s MoTAS meeting.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend brings  Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19). This is followed by “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27, and “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/29. October currently has two shows (three if you count Yom Kippur on 10/4): “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) on Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25. November is back to busy, with “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sun 11/9 (shifting to avoid ACSAC and opening night), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I may also see some theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26. Right now, I’m looking at The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto, or “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB). As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


2 Replies to ““The theater is our lifeline to humanity — Without it we’d all be Republicans””

  1. Judy and I saw Ionesco’s Rhinoceros about ten years ago at the Berkeley Rep. It made a lasting impression, to the point where we still refer to SUVs as rhinoceri. Highly recommended. There is a reasonable version available from Netflix featuring a young Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Its better on stage.

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