Regional Reviews: San Diego
Moon Over Buffalo
Also see Bill's review of Hello, Dolly!
Set in 1953, Moon Over Buffalo takes place at the Erlanger Theatre in Buffalo, New York, where actors George Hay (Arthur Hanket) and his wife Charlotte (Katrina Ferguson) perform in a repertory theatre and are featured in classic plays such as Cyrano de Bergerac and Private Lives. While they initially seem passionately in love, various conflicts threaten their affection for each other. Their daughter, the former actress Rosalind (Jacque Wilke), is also dealing with problems of her own. She loves her nervous weatherman fiancé Howard (Arusi Santi), but is forced to interact with her ex-fiancé, stage manager Paul (Josh Braaten).
The main reason to see Ludwig's play is, of course, for the humor. Director Matthew Wiener presents the story with a high energy that never seems to leave the stage. People enter and exit the stage quickly, and he is impressively able to sustain the frenetic pace of the script. Marty Burnett's set visually impresses in scenes that represent the green room, where a great deal of the play takes place. Burnett's set design also plays a crucial role in sequences that take place on the Erlanger Theatre stage. Along with the set, Elisa Benzoni's costumes and Matt Novotny's lighting contribute to a larger than life theatrical environment that's both impressive and amusing.
Wiener coaxes very funny performances from his cast. Hanket and Ferguson convincingly play characters who are just as hammy in real life as they are onstage. Despite Charlotte and George's personal flaws, which are gradually revealed, Katrina Ferguson and Arthur Hanket's polished and witty acting keeps the audience invested in their relationship. Additionally, both Charlotte and George clearly adore Rosalind, a fact that contributes to their likability. Wilke, Santi, and Roxane Carrasco as Charlotte's hard-of-hearing mother Ethel are just as funny, especially as George and Charlotte's problems grow increasingly out of control. Low-key, but funny, roles are played by Braaten and Matthew Salazar-Thompson as the Hays' family lawyer Richard Maynard, and they bring some balance to the escalating insanity.
The play does require some suspension of disbelief, as characters make and take part in wrong decisions but rarely face any real consequences for their mistakes. Toward the end, though, some of them make life-changing choices that are sudden and lead to tidy resolutions. Even then, there's often a funny moment or clever quip to cover and make up for the sometimes abrupt plot points that occur. In addition, there are a few positive messages that Ludwig is able to sneak into the farce. He celebrates the spontaneous and exciting world of theatre, and, without fully bashing movies which are shown to negatively impact the performing arts, he honors the belief that being involved with theatre can lead to a liberating and rewarding life. He also suggests that everyone deserves love, even if many people are far from perfect.
Wiener's interpretation provides the laughs you want from a Ludwig tale, and the North Coast Rep rendition might just make you respect the hard work that goes into a repertory company.
Moon Over Buffalo, through February 10, 2019, at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Suite D, Solana Beach CA. Performances are Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $45.00 and can be purchased online at www.northcoastrep.org or by phone at 858-481-1055.