Friday, October 7, 2011

Theatre Review by Craig Nolan Highley: "Moon Over Buffalo"

By Ken Ludwig
Directed by Anny Alexander

Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo is a masterpiece of physical comedy and comic timing. It is the very definition of “door-slamming farce” and is such a juicy script that it managed to lure Carol Burnett back to the stage after a 30-year hiatus in its original Broadway production. Its various incarnations have featured such luminaries as Jane Connell, Lynn Redgrave, Robert Goulet, Frank Langella, and Joan Collins.

So it’s no surprise that so many theater groups are drawn to the piece, as the show is a comic actor’s dream. The Little Colonel Playhouse’s current production is probably the third version I’ve seen in half a dozen years, but it still had me rolling on the floor laughing at the sheer genius of a script that remains fresh no matter how familiar you become with it.

The story concerns George and Charlotte Hay, a pair of aging, husband-and-wife actors, at a Buffalo theatre in 1953. Both are vain, in denial of their advancing years, and determined to leave the stage behind for a career in the movies. On an afternoon where everything goes wrong (temperamental actors quit, George’s extramarital dalliances are discovered, etc.), it is revealed that none other than Frank Capra will be in today’s audience. Ronald Colman and Greer Garson have just dropped out of Capra’s new movie, you see, and the famous director is considering George and Charlotte as replacements.

That’s the setup for pure situational comedy gold and LCP’s cast pulls it off, amazingly. This type of shtick is very easy to screw up if not done exactly right and with perfect timing, and the cast kept me cackling through every drunken rant and case of mistaken identity. By the time the doors started slamming and the actors were running breathlessly in and out of every stage entrance, I was laughing so hard I couldn’t catch my breath!

The cast is a who’s-who of familiar local actors, many of whom present us with some of their best work. As George, Michael McCollom gives what is easily his greatest performance yet. I had doubts about his ability to pull off such a huge and complicated character, but he nails it. Grace Poganski also introduces us to one of her greatest creations yet, making Charlotte a force of nature but yet still imbuing her with enough humanity that you can still root for her.

Nancy Hoover is comic gold as Charlotte’s mother, Ethel, whose hearing loss leads to many of the show’s conflicts. Magdalen Hartman, as the Hays’ long-suffering daughter Rosalind, shows us she is not just a pretty face but a true comic actor, especially in a later scene where she is forced to try to save a live performance that is rapidly going to Hell.

Andrew K. McGill has some of the show’s funniest moments as Rosalind’s clueless weatherman fiancĂ©, Katie Hay shows a lot of spunk as George’s one-night stand who refuses to go quietly in the night, and Howard Whitman is all arrogance and swagger as the Hays’ lecherous lawyer. 

Brian Kennedy, like Ms. Hartman, uses his good looks to great comic effect as the Hays’ long-suffering production manager (and Rosalind’s ex); some of the pitfalls his character overcomes are exhausting!

I can’t usually make this statement with community theater productions, but there was not a single miscast performer in any of the roles. This is easily one of the best ensembles I have seen in the entire Louisville theater area, and I have to strongly congratulate director Anny Alexander for putting this group together.

The only negatives I noticed were on the technical side, and were mostly minor quibbles. The five doors arranged around the stage that the actors are constantly running in and out of seemed ill-defined as to their purpose, other than their obvious need for the constant door-slamming. It really seemed the doors never lead to the same place twice, as characters refer to different destinations each time they used them. I found it a little confusing and I don’t know whether this was a script or directing issue. (I don’t recall this being a problem in other productions of the show I have seen.)

The most glaring thing, though, was the “General Patton Uniform,” which plays a major part in the proceedings. It is referred to several times, but when we finally see it, it is nothing of the kind. If anything, it looked like a half-dressed cartoon Nazi.

Otherwise, though, the set looked fantastic and realistic, and the costumes perfectly evoked the period. Big kudos to the team of Anny Alexander, Bill Baker, Bob Burke, Darren Burke, and Jane Burke for the set and Dan Goodrich for the costumes.

So do yourself a favor. Make the drive out to the Little Colonel Playhouse, turn your brain off for a couple of hours, and enjoy the lunacy of Moon Over Buffalo, easily one of the best tickets in town!

Starring Cristeen Grasch, Magdalen Hartman, Katie Hay, Nancy Hoover, Brian Kennedy, Michael McCollom, Andrew K. McGill, Grace Poganski, and Howard Whitman.

Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Crestwood, KY 40014
(502) 241-9906

Entire contents are copyright © 2011, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

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