Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a fun-filled ride
By Lee Juillerat for the Ashland News
Wacky, ribald, hilarious.
Faster paced than an Olympic speed-skating final, overflowing with Marx Brothers- style mayhem, resounding with ear-pounding “Bam!!!” slamming doors.
“Moon Over Buffalo,” the season opening offering at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, is two-hours of delightful hysteria — controlled hysteria that features belly-laughing word play, incredibly choregraphed physical comedy and a team of actors who create an unbelievably believable scenario.
Written by Ken Ludwig, whose other plays include “Lend Me a Tenor,” Baskerville” and “Leading Ladies,” “Buffalo” is a tour de farce. The action takes place in, as the play’s name implies, Buffalo, New York. It’s 1953 and Buffalo is the current stopover for George and Charlotte Hay, who’ve taken two plays — “Cyrano De Bergerac” and “Private Lives” — on the road in hopes of revving their never-realized acting careers. Both are characters — in all terms of the word.
Playing those characters are Laurie Dawn as the anything but hush-hush sweet Charlotte and Brik Berkes in a rock — make that brick — solid performance as George. But “Buffalo” is a play where its cast of actors verbally and visually combine to create a rollicking comedy.
When the performance aimed to impress Capra begins, Rosalind recites the opening lines for “Private Lives.” Then, because George fails to appear on cue, she recites her lines again, and again, and waits — and waits. In a marvelous performance by Rebecca Tucker, Rosaland frantically ad libs, for a time waiting patiently, then angrily, then madly. And, when drunken George finally appears, he’s dressed as Cyrano, carrot-long nose and all. Uh-oh! Wrong play.
The humor comes from all directions. George and Charlotte are puff ’n strut personalities who believe they’re been passed over for stardom. They’re surrounded by Ethel, Charlotte’s nearly deaf mother; Rosalind, their daughter who’s left the stage seeking a “normal” life; Paul, their stage manager and Rosalind’s former fiancé; Richard, a lonely lawyer courting Charlotte; Howard, whose “acting” credentials are working as a TV weatherman; and Eileen, a company actress.
Things get frantic when, in the midst of head-spinning happenings, it’s learned that Frank Capra — yes, that famous film director Frank Capra — is flying to Buffalo to see if George and Charlotte have the stuff for starring roles in his new drama. Just as confusion is running amuck — it’s revealed George had a “make-her-a-momma-to-be night” with Eileen, Howard is mistaken for Capra and, later, as Eileen’s gun-toting brother; Charlotte is prepared to gallivant off with Richard — are just some of what generates belly-laugh inducing silliness.
Another comedic level of wackiness is reached that night when the play showcasing their talents for Capra begins. Everything that can go wrong, of course, goes wrong.
Along with Tucker, adding to the romper room atmosphere in making their characters surreally silly are Sierra Wells as Eileen, Samuel Wick as Howard, Nicholas Wilder as Paul, August Gabriel as Richard and Livia Genise as Ethel (Suzanne Seiber filled the role for the performance I viewed).
The script is verbally stunning, rich with humor and situational comedy, but it takes the entire cast to expand on the words, whether George is fumbling-stumbling or bellowing, Charlotte is ranting and recanting, or other actors are flaunting raised eyebrows, grinning so wildly it seems their eyes might pop out, or sharing lipstick-smearing kisses.
“Moon” is directed by Galloway Stevens, who, based on his roles in several Cabaret comedies, might have been cast as the physically adroit stumbling, tumbling, bumbling George.
The dialogue is always alive and sassy, with tweaky comments like, “It’s like being in an asylum on the guards’ day off.”
That’s an apt description for “Moon Over Buffalo.” It’s crazy fun.
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org.