Off-Broadstreet Theater is greeting the autumn season with a three-character comedy, “The Costume Ball,” by Norman Beim. The play, one of the 75 or so Beim has written, dates to the 1980s.
The farce deals with Harry and Gwen Harris and their obligatory need to attend a costume ball. Unfortunately for them (but not the audience), they have botched the date and suddenly discover that Harry needs to improvise a costume. So he dons one of Gwen’s gowns, a pair of heels, and face full of makeup. Add a sudden visit by an important, yet never-before-met, business representative, that stranger’s romantic attraction to the costumed Harry, and Harry’s need to maintain his “Hillary” persona, and the stage is set for fun.
Audiences are sure to enjoy the way OBT favorite Barry Abramowitz handles the role of Harry (not to mention that of Hillary). A lot can land on the shoulders of one person in a three-person play, but Abramowitz — no surprise — handles those responsibilities with charm and grace. As do the other two actors.
Susan Fowler, another OBT veteran, is Gwen; she too is a pleasure to watch and hear. And Curtis Kaine, who takes on Wilbur Wilberforce, sets off Harry’s self-destructive tendencies with a consistently underplayed but precise obliviousness that is a joy. He carries off the role with skill.
It’s unlikely that many people would characterize the dialogue as sparkling, but the facial responses of the actors makes up for a lot of the weakness in the writing. You have to give extra credit to actors who can bring off less-than-first-class dialogue.
The first act closes with everything up in the air. “I think everybody will be happy in the end,” came from a nearby table at intermission, a reasonable assumption at a farce. Harry had started in desperation and had dug himself in deeper, but the playwright has provided a way for Harry to escape unscathed.
There may be no breathtaking developments, and the dialogue may not be champagne, but most audiences will enjoy the way Beim has constructed his frame and the maneuvering he indulges in. And there is a surprise or two in the second act.
The action takes place in the living room of Harry and Gwen’s New York City apartment. It is a large handsome space, symmetrically arranged — an attractive, but not a fancy, setting. The art on the walls — Japanese prints and New Yorker covers — defines efficiently the world where this happens.
Robert Thick is responsible for the design of “The Costume Ball,” and has designed a set that helps illuminate the action and is attractive to boot. Ann Raymond did the costumes and certainly deserves particular kudos for designing (or perhaps finding) a gown that would do Harry Harris proud.
Robert Thick also directs, which means audiences can expect clarity and humor. And as long as potential audiences realize they’re not going to be served any deep food for thought, “The Costume Ball” should please a range of theatergoers.
The Costume Ball, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, October 26. $27 to $31.50 includes dessert. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.