By Geary Danihy
For farce to work, the chaos inherent in the genre must build ever so gradually to a crescendo of confusion that brings about a comedic catharsis in the audience – in other words, the belly laughs that have been building up must finally explode, and explode they do while watching the last lunatic act of Moon Over Buffalo, a Broadway favorite by Ken Ludwig that recently opened at the Ivoryton Playhouse.
Set in 1953, the play’s focus is a down-at-heels repertory company playing Private Lives and Cyrano de Bergerac to a less than enthusiastic Buffalo audience. The driving force, such as it is, behind the company is a husband and wife team, George and Charlotte Hay (played by real-life husband and wife Buzz Roddy and Laurie Dawn) who have trod one too many boards. Into their lives returns their daughter, Rosalind, (Elizabeth Erwin) with a fiancé in tow, a meek TV weatherman named Howard (Michael McDermott).
Complicating matters are the facts that: Rosalind’s former beau, Paul, (Ed Walsh) has returned to the company; the ingénue, Eileen, (Diandra Schmitt) has just learned she is pregnant, compliments of George; the wardrobe lady, Ethel, (Maggie McGlone-Jennings) is Charlotte’s slightly deaf mother; and the company’s lawyer, Richard (Derek Corriveau) is carrying a torch for Charlotte. There – got it all?
Facing extreme financial difficulties, the Hays learn that the famed film director Frank Capra is coming to a matinee performance with the possibility that he will offer the lead roles in his new movie to the aging thespian couple. Thus the stage is set for revelations, confrontations, a lot of door slamming and a performance of the opening moments of Private Lives that should have Noel Coward turning in his grave. The success of these penultimate scenes owe much to the comedic ability of Roddy and Erwin as the father drunkenly stumbles about in the wrong costume while his daughter attempts to cover for him.
One of the reasons Roddy is so effective in these scenes is that he has been husbanding his franticness, if you will, so that the “play” scenes are the conclusion of what might be called a slow comedic build. Dawn, often quite funny, is, however, less effective for exactly the opposite reason, for she is “up there” right from the opening moments of the play and like a diva who has already hit her High C, she really has nowhere to go.
The rest of the cast does a nice job keeping the comedic pot boiling. Of special note are McGlone-Jennings, who is a delight as the hearing-challenged mother-in-law, and Walsh as the much put-upon stage manager cum actor.
Pacing and timing are key elements in the success of farce, and director Matthew J. Pugliese does a nice job moving his cast about the stage and in and out of the multiple doors that are an integral part of Michael Meister’s set design which, except for a markedly under-lit opening scene, is effectively illuminated by Tate R. Burmeister. Pugliese might have thought about tightening up the dialogue delivery a tad – there’s a bit too much air between some of the lines, especially in the first act – but his touch with the build that starts with the return of an inebriated George and culminates in the Private Lives debacle is quite deft.
All in all, the Playhouse’s current fare is a delightful romp and well worth the trip. Leave a little early, perhaps enjoy a shore dinner along the way and then wend your way to Ivoryton for “dessert.”
Moon Over Buffalo runs through Sunday, Aug. 3. For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.