Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Moon Over Buffalo"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


"Moon Over Buffalo"

by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Paul Campbell

Set Design by Raymond Possick
Lighting Design by Gail Debiak
Costume Design by Sherilyn Levy
Stage Manager Elizabeth Lingard

George Hay.............................Jerry Robbins
Charlotte Hay....................Carrie St. Jacques
Ethel....................................Cynthia D. Pape
Rosalind...............................Pamela Rodgers
Howard..................................Bill Harrington
Eileen.....................................Teresa Goding
Paul.....................................John Schnatterly
Richard..........................Paul O’Shaughnessy


“Moon Over Buffalo” is a realistic slice-of-life examination of life in the theater in the grand tradition of “Room Service” and “Lend Me A Tenor” --- i.e. a riotous, door-slamming backstage farce --- exactly the sort of show the country’s oldest Community Theater --- The Footlight Club --- does to perfection.

The play is set in 1953, when the cold breath of television was first frosting Broadway’s “magnificent invalid” and great theatrical names like George and Charlotte Hay were forced to choose between hoping for a smash role in a Hollywood epic and touring the classics in stock through places like Buffalo. (In the summer of 1953, I actually saw Basil Rathbone in “The Heiress” on Cape Cod, so the background is authentic.) The fact that their grown daughter has engaged herself to a television weatherman instead of the Hay’s long-suffering stage manager is, of course, a graphic illustration of the problem.

Here George and Charlotte are Jerry Robbins and Carrie St. Jacques, whose pratfalls and takes have masterful comic timing. They play characters for whom life backstage and onstage have blurred into pure style. Only Charlotte’s mother, an implacably caustic costume-mistress who only uses her hearing-aid at inopportune moments, nails these exotic birds periodically back to the ground.

St. Jacques has a gift for the astonished pause, and her Charlotte is a listener who is always putting two and two together, but waiting for the appropriate moment to spring the sum. Jerry Robbins can turn his legs at will to wivvering jello, and his drunk-scene starts at a level most actors would end with, and progresses through crashing stumbles and bewildered takes to dizzying heights. They push the send-ups of the plays they’re touring (“Cyrano” and “Private Lives”) much too hard, but that is a fault in Ken Ludwig’s script that Director Paul Campbell should have addressed. These scenes reek of television camp, and interrupt the flow of excellent backstage farce wherever they appear.

Bill Harrington’s weatherman is the sort of third-banana who is slapped with a pie every time he steps through a door --- or in this case gets that door slammed onto his nose again and again. He has the mistaken-identity role in this farce, never knowing when he steps onstage who everyone else thinks he is, and his experience playing comedies shows every moment.

Cynthia D. Pape’s costume-mistress rolls caustically through this bombastic maelstrom like a sarcastic tumbrel, cutting everyone’s histrionics down to size. Teresa Godding flits hysterically through as an ingenue with a pregnancy problem. And Paul O’Shaugnessy dashes through as the ASM doomed to do all the go-fering and the heavy lifting.

Pamela Rodgers and John Schnatterly are the no-nonsense lovers --- the daughter in flight from her parents’ theatrical life, the stage-manager trying to keep that life alive. They argue about theater on a realistic level, seeing its rewards and its excesses for what they are. They are doomed to eventual wedlock and commitment to life upon the wicked stage --- this is a farce after all, remember?

It is a credit to Director Paul Campbell’s experienced hand at staging comedies that you would have to squint hard and hold your head canted way over to one side to see this production of Ken Ludwig’s script as an elongated sketch from television’s “Carol Burnett Show”. He has made these characters if not real at least with serious theatrical substance. He knows how to set up a situation, let the premise simmer, and then make the audience remember why outlandish things unfold. His production is always half a step ahead of the audience, leading them to one hilarious discovery after another.

What else do you want?
Next week: “East Lynne”!!!

Love,
===Anon.


"Moon Over Buffalo" (till 20 February)
THE FOOTLIGHT CLUB
7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN
1(617)524-6506

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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