Lend me some lunacy

Moon Over Buffalo

Written by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Brian Feehan
The St. Bart’s Players
St. Bart’s Playhouse
Park Avenue at 50th Street (Manhattan)
(212) 378-0248; www.members.aol.com/bartsweb
Non-union production (closes February 18)
Review by Judd Hollander


Farce requires a delicate balancing act. Do too much and you slip into melodrama; do too little and the whole thing falls flat. Fortunately, the St. Bart’s Players production of Moon Over Buffalo pretty much pulls it off, with a few missteps here and there. But it’s certainly much better then the 1995 Broadway version.


Set backstage at Buffalo’s Erlanger Theater, as represented by a wonderful set (by Blair Mielnik) circa 1953, we meet George and Charlotte Hay (Robert Berger and Barbara Blomberg). Once the toast of Broadway, the couple has fallen upon hard times (and the passing of years) and is now in the middle of a repertory tour of America’s hinterlands. Depressed because they were passed over for a film which would have put them back on top, things go from bad to worse when Charlotte learns George slept with a young woman in the company (Anne Watters) who, as a result, is pregnant with George’s child.


Furious, Charlotte decides to run off with their lawyer (Brian Haggerty) who’s been not so secretly pursuing her for years; a decision which makes the ever-repentant George go completely to pieces. Complicating matters further is the unexpected arrival of their daughter Roz (Lisa Hokans) who forsook the family business for the relatively sane world of advertising and who now wants to introduce her folks to her fiancé (Marc Strauss). Roz might still be carrying a torch for Paul (Brad Negbaur), an actor with the troupe. There's also the sudden realization that a Hollywood bigshot will be in the audience that afternoon, and the film role once thought lost is now very much a possibility.


The play is filled with such devices as mistaken identity, miscommunication, sudden eruptions of passion, slamming doors, offstage crashes, innocent souls caught up in the mayhem and spots where the audience is left to imagine the worst. The problem is that Ludwig’s script is rather lazy and it's up to the cast to take what's basically B-grade material and make it shine. Fortunately, they’re up to the task.  


This play requires a director’s firm hand and Feehan’s guidance falters somewhat. Much of the first act needs to be played faster (a bit where a pair of pants keep ripping is not as nearly funny as it could be). There’s also one scene (when Roz and Paul meet) that’s played so broadly it’s as if the performers are winking at the audience about the absurdity of the situation instead of being in the moment.


Berger and Blomberg play off each other perfectly, though each goes a bit too far over the top at points, but they’re able to bring the characters under control before long. Strauss is nicely dull in a thankless role, while Hokans is endlessly watchable as a levelheaded girl reduced to a screaming madwoman once she returns to the life she once forsworn. Veteran actress Jean Streit is good as Charlotte’s hard-of-hearing mother, though the routine begins to wear thin rather quickly. The entire cast is dressed to vintage perfection in Kimberly Matela’s accurately stylish 1950’s costumes.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

Copyright 2007 Judd Hollander

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