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One Man, Two Guvnors
Desert Rose Playhouse

Also see Rob's review of The Sound of Music


Billy Mallard, Dianna Maynard, Christopher Chase, Keiten Johnson and Peter Cornelius
I hate to sound all Forrest Gump-y, but you never know what you're going to get when you walk into a storefront theater. It could be pretentious dreck, or well-intentioned but embarrassing amateurism, or a hilarious little diamond-in-the-rough. The latter is exactly what I walked into at the Desert Rose Playhouse (which is literally a storefront theater, in a seen-better-days mini strip mall).

One Man, Two Guvnors is a 2011 farce by English writer Richard Bean. It's Carlo Goldoni's 1743 The Servant of Two Masters as channeled through Joe Orton, but I think it's even funnier than Orton. The play is set in 1963 Brighton, which was the UK's equivalent of 1963 Atlantic City, and the characters are mostly small-time criminals. The plot has to do with a homosexual (they didn't use "gay" much back then) gangster who's been whacked and is now being impersonated by his "identical" twin sister.

But nobody cares about the plot. It's just the scaffolding for a manic run of gags and physical comedy and song and dance and a little audience participation. The first few minutes, I thought we were in for a rough ride because the timing seemed way off, like an early rehearsal. But then everything jelled and the actors were so full of energy and joie de jouer (I think I just made that up: the joy of performing) that it turned out to be one of the best times I've had at a show all year.

Except for the amazing Christopher Chase, everybody in the cast was new to me—new blood, which is one of the reasons we go to live theater. There are some real finds here: Joshua Caleb Horton, Dianna Maynard, Avery Scott, Dani Villareal-Turos and Taylor Cross. The one-named Casca does the most fantastic falls for a 66-year-old.

The cast is rounded out by Billy Mallard, Keiten Johnson and Taylor Pomeroy, all of whom are good, too. Peter Cornelius, though, shows that it takes a good actor to play a bad actor, and he isn't quite good enough yet to be bad. The music, some original songs from the play and some early '60s Beatles tunes, is ably provided by a band of just two: Dean Clark on guitar and vocals, and Nelson Wirstrom on drums.

Christopher Chase, who plays the lackey of two guvnors (employers), is one of Albuquerque's little-known treasures. I've seen him play "English" so convincingly in Arcadia and Frost/Nixon that I was shocked when I heard his natural American accent. I didn't expect him to have the chops for verbal comedy, much less physical comedy, but did he ever prove me wrong. When it comes to stuttering hesitations, he out-Hugh-Grants Hugh Grant. Add in silly walks and pratfalls and spit takes and ad libs, and I was in awe.

For a small space and almost no budget, the set that has to accommodate six different scenes (including the waterfront) is innovatively and impressively designed by Michael Montroy, Shiela Freed and Karin Pitman. I give Michael Montroy, who directed, a lot of credit for bringing this play to Albuquerque, assembling this cast, and making the action move as quickly as it does.

The one thing a show like this needs that the theater itself can't provide is an audience that's into it. Not much is more depressing than people knocking themselves out for a comatose audience. So if you're in the mood for farce, I encourage you to go. Fill the theater, which only holds about 40 people. And laugh. Out loud. (Sam Roll, where are you?)

One Man, Two Guvnors, a comedy by Richard Bean, is being performed at the Desert Rose Playhouse through July 20, 2014. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. 6921 Montgomery Blvd NE, just west of Louisiana. 505-881-0503. www.desertroseplayhouse.com.


Photo: courtesy of Desert Rose Playhouse

--Dean Yannias



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