“Room Service" -- Westport Country Playhouse

--Irene Backalenick

“Room Service,” now at the Westport Country Playhouse, is a vintage comedy, a child of the depression-ridden 1930s. Though the show is purportedly about theater and its struggle to survive, it is, more accurately, about the need for money. The struggle for survival was the overwhelming concern of the ‘30s -- and of this play as well.

Specifically, in “Room Service,” a hopeful young company is about to present a new play. As preparation moves forward, the cast stays in a hotel run by the producer’s brother-in-law -- hence providing room, board, and rehearsal areas. But the mounting hotel bill threatens eviction every step of the way. How will the producer get that money? Where is the needed angel, the backer?

Though some may see this theme as equally timely in today’s world, the play comes across as quaint and dated. Would any modern company launch a play without first getting its financial backing?

Yet the Playhouse production, under the steadying hand of artistic director Mark Lamos, comes across as lively, spirited, and occasionally amusing. Lamos and company never let the pace lag. The play is essentially a farce, with plenty of door-opening-and-slamming.

And most of the cast of nine capture the exaggerated mood perfectly. Unfortunately, Ben Steinfeld, in the key role of producer Gordon Miller, is miscast, never achieving the proper level of zaniness. He is just too normal. Hence the production suffers a hollowness at its very core. But Eric Bryant, as the young playwright Leo Davis, saves the day. Wandering into this den of thieves, he is an innocent, straight from Oswego, New York, shy but bedazzled by the Big City.

In all, “Room Service” is not the Playhouse’s best effort, despite the landmark role this John Murray/Allen Boretz comedy played in theater/film history. (In 1937 it played Broadway for 500 performances and went on to be a Marx Brothers film.) But, for our times, one cannot but feel it is wasted effort, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com

Posted 10.15.13

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