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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

warring

with the real drama of its actors’ lives. Here we find stage-struck

men and women with feet of clay — who nonetheless conduct

themselves

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

Shakespeare,

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

engagement,

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,

director

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

business

by the movies and television — by "entertainment by the

yard."

"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

jealous

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,

schlepper,

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

philandering

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

enforcer,

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

reinforce

the play’s conceit — that "there’s no business like show

business"

— and even foreshadow the play within a play.

Just as the Hays company conflicts reach a climax, the troupe

discovers

that Mr. Hollywood himself, Capra, is en route to the matinee to

secure

George as the replacement for Colman who has broken both his legs.

Yet the emotional climate is such that George has decided to put

himself

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

falling

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

delighted

to agree.

"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

Jersey

Film Festival, New Brunswick, with an appearance by the filmmakers.

— Nicole Plett

Moon Over Buffalo, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South

Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. Fridays to Sundays to June

13. Dessert & show, $20 & $18.50.


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