Theatre companies love to produce theatre about theatre. 6th Street Playhouse gets in the act with Ken Ludwig’s 1995 door-slamming farce Moon Over Buffalo, running through February 3.
Buffalo’s Erlanger Theater is hosting the repertory company of George and Charlotte Hay (Dodds Delzell & Madeleine Ashe), grade-B actors and grade-A hams who never made it big on stage. Spending their waning years touring second-rate theatres and playing roles more appropriate for actors half their age, they’re on the ropes when word comes that Frank Capra is coming to see them perform and possibly cast them as replacements for the leads in a big-budget period film.
Charlotte doesn’t believe George as she’s just found out he’s been lying about an affair he had with company ingenue Eileen (Victoria Saitz). Charlotte announces she’s running off with family attorney Richard (Joe Winkler) which sends George into a drunken spiral. Charlotte finds out the Capra story is true, so it’s up to Charlotte, her recently returned daughter Rosalind (Chandler Parrott-Thomas), her daughter’s ex-lover and current stage manager Paul (Robert Nelson) and Charlotte’s hearing-impaired mother Ethel (Shirley Nilsen Hall) to sober up George in time for the matinee. There’s also confusion over Rosalind’s current fiancé Howard (Erik Weiss), who’s mistaken by Charlotte for Capra and by George as Eileen’s vengeful brother. Things conclude with a performance of Noël Coward’s Private Lives mashed up with Cyrano de Bergerac.
Director Carl Jordan has a terrific cast of comedic talents running, jumping, stumbling, and rolling through Ludwig’s tale which comes off as a lesser knock-off of his superior Lend Me a Tenor. All the elements are there (mistaken identity, feuding lovers, etc.) but at its core it’s a hollow re-do that starts slowly before hitting its stride. More problematic, the characters as written simply aren’t very likeable. The show only works if you care about the characters and want them to get out of their mess. I just didn’t.
The set by Jason Jamerson is solid – literally, as it has to withstand two hours of door slamming – and it’s one of the better sets seen recently on 6th Street’s stage. The cast is game and their timing is great with each squeezing some laughs out of their characters. Delzell gets to play half the show soused, Parrott-Thomas is quite delightful as Rosalind, and while Weiss’s physical comedy is always fun to watch, I’d really like to see him do something different with his next role.
Moon Over Buffalo is a case where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★½
‘Moon Over Buffalo’ runs Friday – Sunday through February 3 at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. Thurs., Jan 24 and Fri.–Sat., 7:30pm; Sun., 2pm. $20–$30. 707.523.4185. 6thstreetplayhouse.com
Photos by Eric Chazankin
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.