Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
One Man, Two Guvnors
Also see Mary's review of Young Frankenstein
"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Although the author of this quote is unknown, the second part is undoubtedly true. And no form of comedy is more difficult than farce. It's high praise, therefore, to say that director Gillen Brey has done a respectable job with the acclaimed British farce One Man Two Guvnors, now playing at the Las Vegas Little Theatre.
Based on the commedia dell'arte classic The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, Richard Bean's modern adaptation moves the action from eighteenth century Italy to 1963 Brighton. Francis Henshall, a starving busker who lives hand-to-mouth by picking up odd jobs, accepts work from two bosses, neither of whom is aware of his dual employment. Unknown to Francis, the two bosses have an important connection, and each of them, unaware of the other's arrival in Brighton, is actively searching for the other while attempting to avoid the police. Adding to the confusion are a woman (Rachel) disguised as her dead brother (Roscoe), a fugitive (Stanley) who went into hiding after killing Roscoe but who is madly in love with Rachel, and a jealous lover (Alan) seeking a showdown with the resurrected Roscoe. In the midst of all this, Francis's efforts to serve both employers while hiding his disloyalty run hilariously amuck. The highlight of the play is a restaurant scene in which the hunger-crazed Francis tries to serve dinner to both employers in adjacent private dining rooms, while pocketing most of the food for himself.
One Man, Two Guvnors stands or falls on the performance of the actor playing Francis. In London and New York, James Corden was brilliant in the role. Happily for Las Vegas, Casper Collins is a delight. He carries the entire show on his shoulders (literally, in the case of one of the performers). Although the play's humor is tightly scripted, including the audience interactions, Collins always appears spontaneous. In the crucial restaurant scene, his timing is impeccable.
Like Collins, the other standouts in the cast understand that the delicate recipe for farce demands cartoon-like characters. As Alfie, the octogenarian waiter, Jeremy Alan Taylor's hilarious pratfalls are reminiscent of Tim Conway on "The Carol Burnett Show." Amanda Collins is equally fine as the dumb-as-a-post Pauline, whose father insists that she marry the low-life Roscoe even though she is in love with Alan, an aspiring thespian. In the latter role, Michael Blair does a very good job of playing a very bad actor. Alexander Sund is engaging as the stylish fugitive Stanley, who fails to realize that the man he is avoiding (Roscoe) is actually the woman he is pursuing (Rachel).
Bean's script works best in the high-comedy moments, including the infamous restaurant scene. Some of the other scenes, however, pose challenges for both actors and director. The opening scene, Pauline's engagement party, is heavy on exposition, and other scenes are weighed down by attempts at British political humor and Beatles references which simply don't pack a punch. These passages are best tackled with high energy and a fast pace, but here the production falters. Several of the actors are simply too stiff and serious in their roles, leaving their scenes devoid of energy. As a result, the pace flags. The engagement party, for example, feels more like a wake. The costuming doesn't help. With few exceptions, these characters are supposed to be petty criminals. Yet most of them are buttoned up in conservative suits and ties; they look like they are going to a funeral. In contrast, the livelier characters have costumes that match their personalities- Francis in his loud patterned suit, Pauline in her bright girlish frock, Alan in his actor-y leather jacket and pullover, and Stanley in his slick three-piece pinstripes.
The discrepancy between the scenes of high comedy and the more plodding sequences makes the production feel a bit undercooked. While Francis is clearly the centerpiece of the play, if the entire ensemble were to embrace the script's cartoonish elements the result would be fluffy soufflé.
One Man, Two Guvnors continues through September 24, 2017 (Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays and Saturday, September 16, at 2pm) at the Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada. For tickets ($21-24) and other information, go to www.lvlt.org.
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