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Review: "Moon over Buffalo"
This review by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
Wednesday, May 20, 1998. All rights reserved.
Theatrical illusion delights us because it is just
that — pure illusion. Yet what fun it is for an audience to steal
a glimpse backstage once in a while to the mayhem bubbling beneath
the seamless artifice.
In his 1995 farce, "Moon Over Buffalo," Ken Ludwig delivers
up the hilarious essence of the theater’s ancient itinerant tradition:
a place where the niceties of the on-stage drama are constantly
with the real drama of its actors’ lives. Here we find stage-struck
men and women with feet of clay — who nonetheless conduct
like minor royalty — traipsing around the provinces delivering
up butchered versions of the classics. These same classics provide
the grist for playwright Ludwig, who steals mercilessly from
Rostand, and Noel Coward, while effectively observing the eminent
Aristotle’s three dramatic unities.
Set entirely in the Green Room, backstage at a Buffalo theater, where
seven doors promise plenty of confusion, the action of a single day
swirls around the traveling repertory company of George and Charlotte
Hay and their theatrical and biological families. A daughter’s
an out-of-wedlock child, and an elusive Hollywood contract are all
thrown into the maelstrom of confusion and misdeeds that constitute
the entertaining and far-fetched plot.
At the aptly-named Off-Broadstreet Theater, in rural Hopewell,
Bob Thick and a merry band of actors take immense delight in enacting
24 hours in the life of this struggling traveling troupe, its best
days clearly behind it. Dubbing their declining company "The House
of Usher Repertory Theater," the Hays are being put out of
by the movies and television — by "entertainment by the
"Theater — that elegant invalid. She’s still breathing, and
she’s all we’ve got," intones mother-in-law and veteran trouper
Ethel. She also confesses that the Hays company is serving up
pure "ham to go."
Among the company’s latest complaints is the fact that George and
Charlotte had a shot at roles in Frank Capra’s latest movie. But the
loathsome Ron Colman and Greer Garson — invoked here by the
pair in all their despicable glory — beat them out.
Doug Kline and Mary Kemp play the tireless George and Charlotte Hay
with true panache. June Connerton is the hard-of-hearing Ethel. And
Joyce LaBriola plays the Hays’ daughter Rosalind, lately engaged in
a desperate attempt to break out of the family business into the slick
world of advertising — and marriage. Carl Boles plays Howard,
Rosalind’s intended, an earnest young TV weatherman who hails from
Buffalo. Steven Barnes is the young Paul — company manager,
and all around amanuensis, and Rosalind’s former beau, who, with an
actor newly quit, must step into the repertory’s second lead. And
Amy Beth Selah plays the company ingenue who has allowed the
George to have his way with her; now she’s turned up pregnant.
In true theatrical barnstorming tradition, the show’s director, Bob
Thick, acts as the evening’s ticket taker, welcomer, fire law
and supporting actor. He plays Richard Maynard, New York "lawyer
to the stars" and company overseer who is also the patient pursuer
of the charming, overworked Charlotte. Thick’s multiple roles
the play’s conceit — that "there’s no business like show
— and even foreshadow the play within a play.
Just as the Hays company conflicts reach a climax, the troupe
that Mr. Hollywood himself, Capra, is en route to the matinee to
George as the replacement for Colman who has broken both his legs.
Yet the emotional climate is such that George has decided to put
out of harm’s way by going off on a bender for a few days.
George’s bender is Doug Kline’s cue to shine. His falling-down-drunk
routine has everything we could wish, from the multiple heartfelt
reunions with his angry wife, brief flashes of coherence, to the
down part — down a flight of stairs and under an ironing board.
In the venerable tradition of the play within a play — think of
Shakespeare’s laborers in "Midsummer’s Night Dream" —
we eventually get our chance to see the Hays company in action. And
what action it is. Even though we could have predicted the sight of
lovely Rosalind out on the balcony in her stylish 1920s frock for
the opening lines of "Private Lives," the comic denouement
effectively sends its audience collapsing in laughter.
"That was no matinee, that was a natural disaster," proclaims
the curmudgeonly Ethel, in retrospect. And we, the audience, are
"Moon Over Buffalo" opened on Broadway in 1995 with Carol
Burnett and Philip Bosco. A documentary film by D.A. Pennebaker and
Chris Hegedus that promises "an unblinking, behind-the-scenes
look" at that production will be screened July 11 at the New
Film Festival, New Brunswick, with an appearance by the filmmakers.
— Nicole Plett
Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. Fridays to Sundays to June
13. Dessert & show, $20 & $18.50.
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