“Room Service” at the Westport Playhouse, through October 27

By Tom Nissley

I am often bewildered by choices of great masterpieces that appear on the Westport Playhouse stage. And this wacky farce is one of them. It’s a take-off on how a sleazy producer rips off the hotel where he and twenty-some company members have been sleeping and dining while he waits for a backer for his new play, filled with set-up gags and induced trauma. For two of the three acts I grumbled rather than laugh, but by the last act I was laughing, and...filled with a certain amount of appreciation for some very flexible acting by members of the cast.

“Room Service” takes place in a third-rate hotel in New York that happens to have a theater as part of the property. Its manager (David Beach) has allowed his brother-in-law (Ben Steinfeld) to bring a whole company of theater folks into the hotel during their rehearsals for an as yet unfunded production of a new play by a wide-eyed kid from upstate who has decided to move to New York to follow his star. The star is going nowhere fast unless a backer arrives with money. When one does, through a beautifully detailed nervous lawyer (Frank Vlastnik), hijinks scare him into stopping payment on the check, but not before it has been deposited into the hotel account. The play opens, in the theater, though upper management (Michael McCormick) wants to close it down. A traumatic illness in the wide-eyed kid (Eric Bryant -- amazing actor) keeps that from happening, and when the hotel’s owner (Peter Von Berg) arrives in time to see the play he books it into the theater for a long run. Hayley Treider and Zoe Winters play the women in the company.  The action is purely vaudeville, including repeat gags, and actors stepping into or out of the multiple doors required in the set (John Arnone) to make the goofy script (John Murray and Alan Boretz -- 1937) work.

Mark Lamos, who directed the production, tried, in a program note, to make a connection between how hard all theaters work to raise funds and this rip-off comedy he adores. I’d call that a really weak link. It’s true that all theaters work hard to raise funds, but usually not with the sleazy tactics and double dealing that “Room Service” portrays. In the meantime, right here, an audience base that has the capacity to be challenged and led into world service gets pablum on stage. I doubt if that makes it easier to bring in funds or an audience.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

 

Posted 10.25.2013

 

 

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