Bright Stars Twinkle above Moon Over Over Buffalo
There are laughs aplenty in Moon Over Buffalo, Second Story Rep's 2012-2013 season closer. But let's be clear, this half-baked Ken Ludwig farce about a third-rate repertory theatre in the 1950s is kept buoyant mainly thanks to the efforts of a top-notch cast under the solid direction of Rick Wright. What's more, though tailored for the veteran talents of Carol Burnett (her return to Broadway after 30 years away) and Phillip Bosco, the SSR actors make it their own and help minimize the play's weaknesses.
The play centers on Charlotte and George Hay, an acting couple who aren't in quite the same league as the Lunts, let alone in the same ballpark. When we first meet the Hays they're in Buffalo, touring in repertory with Noël Coward's Private Lives and Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac pared down to a cast of five. Charlotte learns that George is responsible for the pregnancy of the troupe's ingénue and, in a panic, he goes off on a binge. They also receive word that Frank Capra is flying into town to catch their matinee and he may want George to replace Ronald Colman in The Twilight of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Further, some actors are under the impression that they will be playing Private Lives at the matinee, while others go on in costume for Cyrano. At one point, Charlotte mistakes her daughter's fiancé, a befuddled television weatherman, for Frank Capra. Meanwhile, Charlotte's cantankerous, deaf as a post mum has laced coffee that is supposed to sober George up, with whiskey. Amidst slamming doors aplenty, the farce whirls on.
Ludwig mixed all the right ingredients into this fluff, but it doesn't rise to the comic heights of his own masterpiece Lend Me a Tenor. The failure to build a strong comic relationship between Charlotte and George is the key failing of the script and, additionally. Charlotte is never given her own big comic moment to match George's drunk scene. Ludwig's first act feels tedious and way too expository, but the script hits its stride in act two, and director Wright and company take full comic advantage of this.
Buddy Mahoney is at the top of his game as George, a strutting, egotistical and lecherous old hambone, and his drunk scene is simply glorious. Bradetta Vines brings a powerful comic energy to Charlotte, and a booming delivery that could out-Merm Ethel Merman. Sara Trowbridge as the Hays' daughter Roz garners guffaws, especially when, in a Private Lives scene, papa George misses an entrance which she must cover, and then shows up as Cyrano instead of Elyot. Isaiah Crowson is another of the production's MVPs, playing the confused fiancé Howard with an admirably droll comic style. Pat Haines-Ainsworth as Charlotte's mother Ethel serves up her own wry comedic turn, while Danny Miller as stage manager Paul, Jana Gueck as the knocked-up ingénue Eileen, and Doug Knoop as lawyer Richard admirably fill out their roles.
The marvelously versatile sets and lighting are credited to The Squolf, while costume designer Jocelyn Fowler has a good eye for '50s fashion sensibilities.
Moon Over Buffalo may not be the playwright's best work, but thanks to the SSR production, the play's not the thing, the performances are.
Moon Over Buffalo runs through June 30, 2013, at Second Story Repertory, in the Redmond Town Center. For ticketing and more information go to www.secondstoryrep.org.