‘Moon Over Buffalo’
Durango Act Too Players kicks
off its fall season Friday with a riotous, action-filled yet
sometimes-uneven production of American playwright Ken Ludwig’s
backstage farce, “Moon Over Buffalo.”
The comedy, set in Buffalo,
N.Y., is about a dried-up, aging acting couple struggling to
keep their repertory company afloat in the 1950s, when the arrival
of television threatened live stage entertainment. Hoping to
stave off their own obsolescence, George Hay (Freddy McDaniel)
and his wife, Charlotte (Wendy Ludgewait), take their company,
The House of Usher Repertory Theater (an oblique reference to
Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”)
on the road.
and Charlotte hardly have a clue that they are past their time
as actors and should turn over the stage to younger thespians.
After years of futile attempts to break into big-time show business,
the true meltdown begins when they hear that “It’s
a Wonderful Life” director Frank Capra is planning to
attend one of their shows in Buffalo, allegedly to consider
casting George in a sequel to “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
Of course, imaginations run
wild, and the journey toward imminent disaster picks up speed
and comes crashing to an end backstage on the night of Capra’s
purported attendance. The comedy unfolds when philandering George’s
indiscretions catch up with him –as does the news that
the company’s young talentless actress, Eileen (Stephanie
Ramsey), is pregnant. This goads Charlotte’s nearly deaf
mother, Ethel (Shelly Hartney), to unleash her swift and biting
tongue on George. They have the proverbial in-law relationship
– he calls her Quasimodo; she calls him Mr. Potato Head.
Charlotte is swept away by glib lawyer Richard (David Wylie),
who wants her to run away with him so he can give her the life
he thinks she deserves. Richard is the only one in the lot who
seems to have an ounce of class (though McDaniel’s Gold
Toe socks add a touch of class to George’s character,
whether or not intentional, since it was some 20 years past
the Great Depression).
add to the mix, Charlotte and George’s daughter Rosalind
(Madde Stager) arrives backstage with her weatherman fiancE9,
Howard (Brett Stevens), a star-struck but square nut who can’t
understand the embarrassment company actors have about touring
in no-good Buffalo (“It’s Scranton without the charm,”
he claims). Howard is ignored for the most part but is eventually
mistaken to be Capra.
Not until the second act does
Ludwig’s sentimental script begin to roll. And when it
does, “Moon Over Buffalo” has all the trademarks
of a farce – misunderstandings, melodrama and mayhem.
Actors slam doors, fall down and drop trousers. During dress
rehearsal, the cast universally had the energy to create a frenetic
pace that is key in the world of farce. But that energy would
have been better preserved for the latter part of the play,
when the scenes and one-liners need to keep the laughter rolling.
Too early in the play do the actors ramp up the pace, which
ultimately muddies the transition into the climax and camouflages
the major subplot with Rosalind and Howard.
McDaniel’s acting, particularly
his dead-on yet prolonged drunk scene, carries the play. And
it should. After all, George Hay is the one who is responsible
for the messy incidences. McDaniel is at ease in a role rife
with physical moves, not once appearing reluctant to give it
his all. The hilarious pushing and pulling between him and Terry
Shellnut, who nicely plays rep company manager, Paul, comes
across as natural and genuine, not forced and uncomfortable
– especially since you’re expecting McDaniel to
lose his boxers as he’s being yanked around by a sober
man larger than himself. Thankfully, he doesn’t.
Ludgewait and McDaniel never
really hit it off as a believable couple, though that may be
because Ludwig intended them to be an ill-fitted match. Either
way, it works. Charlotte yearns for a glamorous Hollywood life
and will take the first offer, which is why she packs her bags
to go with Richard. She has given up on George, even if he is
a self-declared hack. Ludgewait plays her role properly with
the desperation of a woman who has never been farther from stardom.
It is Ludgewait who delivers the melodramatic storm so important
to the play. She also compliments Stager’s acting, making
it believable that they are mother and daughter – never
satisfied but too weak to figure out how to fix that.
Wylie (lawyer Richard) and
Ramsey (pregnant Eileen) deliver near-grand character performances.
Wylie’s calmness in his role adds just the right touch
of smoothness to a slightly arrogant lawyer who really believes
he can get what he wants. To round out the success of the production,
you’d wish he and Ramsey had bigger roles in this production.
Eventually, the same is true for Hartney, who warms to her task
as the curmudgeonly mother-in-law and comes up with consistent
acting. She shoots off her one-liners (barking to George about
his acting, “I’ve seen more talent in a dog show”)
with adequate setup so that the audience doesn’t miss
Director Karen Wylie, a 20-year
Durango theater veteran, has worked mostly with musicals put
on by Durango Lively Arts. This is her first time directing
a comedy. On balance, her cast plays the material for all it’s
worth – and then some. Minus the uneven pacing, Wylie
guides the cast with the enthusiasm that enables each member
to fully express him or herself. It all leads to an entertaining
romp through the perils of egos, show business and desperation
– something local audiences will appreciate and feel worth
the price of admission.