KPBS AIRDATE: AUGUST 4, 2000
Dithering, blundering, eavesdropping, denouncing, tripping, ripping, drinking, confounding, confusing, missed cues, forgotten lines and mistaken identities. Backstage farce is back in town. And nobody loves it better than North Coast Repertory Theatre. “Moon Over Buffalo” may not be as well written as “Noises Off” or as witty and musical as “Kiss Me, Kate,” but the Ken Ludwig play is a winner, for its sheer side-splitting insanity. The point here, if there ever really is one in farce, is that theater is “our lifeline to humanity,” and the life-blood of actors. And no attempt at transfusion will change that genetic irregularity.
Consider young Rosalind. She tries to flee her madcap theater family. Her parents, fading stage stars, will do literally anything to perform, and to save their waning careers by breaking into film. It’s 1953 and that newfangled television is out of the question. So, George and Charlotte are reduced to touring the provinces, playing places like Buffalo, doing oddly matched repertory productions like “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Private Lives.”
Rosalind thinks she’s escaped all that, and has come back to announce her engagement to a nice, normal, nerdy guy. But, mistaken for Frank Capra, he gets locked in a closet, her father gets drunk, the ingénue gets pregnant, her mother is threatening to run off with the family attorney, and the frazzled stage manager (Charlotte’s former lover), in trying to hold it all together, forces Charlotte back onstage to adlib the opening to the veddy British “Private Lives,” while her pickled papa makes a late entrance as “Cyrano” and her hearing impaired grandma tries to save the day. This play-within-a play should be a showstopper, but the end of the scene falls flat, as does the end of the play.
But these are minor quibbles. The staging, acting, mayhem and theatrical madness are hilarious, and the cast is outstanding. This is one big, fat, fail-safe summer hit. North Coast Rep artistic director Sean Murray has, once again, brought in a fresh directorial face, to impressive effect. Patrick McBride has marshaled all his forces, and his formidable cast, to keep you rolling in the aisles for almost the entire evening. If there only were a trifle less screaming onstage…..
Nonetheless, Sandra Ellis-Troy and David Gallagher are uproarious as the dueling duo, theater-crazed parents of the very sensible Rosalind, sensibly and credibly played by Ayla Yarkut. Manuel Fernandes, James Webb and Pat DiMeo get to show their prodigious comic talents, while designer Marty Burnett gets to make excellent use of his onstage turntable, and Shelly Williams goes all out with her comical costumes.
It’s summer. The movies are retreads. It’s cool in the theater. May the farce be with you.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.