Saturday, November 11, 2006

Opening-night review of *Moon Over Buffalo*

at Interplayers through Nov. 25

At one point in Interplayers’ current production of *Moon Over Buffalo,* we’re informed that an unseen actor has quit the play’s fictional acting troupe because he hasn’t been paid for two weeks. “Nobody’s been paid for two weeks!” shouts the exasperated leading actor, and the line replicates Interplayers’ ongoing financial woes, with layoffs caused by the theater’s inability to pay its staff. It’s a sad/funny moment for the production and for the playhouse.

An audience’s experience of shuffling through this particular *Buffalo* is a lot like the experience of those wacky theater folks the onstage actors are portraying: some scattered miscues, a little amateurishness, some brief displays of genuine love for the theater, hammy acting, tonal shifts that don’t quite register, outbursts of physical comedy that are really quite funny. Ken Ludwig’s 1995 comedy is about touring actors desperate to catch a break — and their crisscrossing jealousies, their longing for the limelight, their continual door-slamming. Director Paul Villabrille’s production at Interplayers bungles much of the high jinks — but gets one farce-within-a-farce sequence hilariously right. It misses some opportunities for serious emotions but touchingly captures others.

There are some moments of really fine physical comedy — much of the play within a play (a terrible, hilarious mash-up of *Cyrano de Bergerac* and *Private Lives*) — and a sequence in which the hammiest lead actor, sloshed out of his mind, is hoisted about like a rag doll (by Dan Anderson’s stagehand character) and tossed into a closet. At times, we get glimpses of the leading couple’s playfulness, their genuine enjoyment of their theatrical lives.

Along with a non-theatrical nebbish whom Ludwig plants onstage, we’re supposed to be wowed by the first entrance of George and Charlotte Hay (Gary Pierce and Jean Hardie). They’re the wannabe stars who are currently playing to adoring crowds in … well, Buffalo, but at least it’s in the same state as New York City. Along with Mentzer’s character, we’re intended to be slightly in awe of how unconventional, how utterly without self-consciousness these flamboyant theatrical folk are. Hardie and Pierce duly burst onstage quoting lines from various plays and exchanging rapier thrusts. There are hints of how playful, how sexually charged this little playtime of theirs is, it’s true; but the swordplay is too restrained, the bon mots don’t crackle. The Hays are a couple in their 50s who, on their first entrance, need to act like they’re in their 20s. But in this scene, both Pierce and Hardie seem a little tentative and lot middle-aged. In general, we need to be thrown from one emotional extreme to another in their performances: the rages and anguish are profound, the exasperation and the confusion are extreme. That kind of dynamic, after all, keeps the engine of farce roaring. But this production’s co-stars are both comedic veterans: Pierce going back more than a decade at Interplayers, and Hardie’s 20 years and more at the Civic. The comic mannerisms — buggy eyes, clothes thrown on in exaggerated resentment, — are what predominate even in the more serious moments. Because amid all the tomfoolery, make no mistake — Ludwig has included arias for both characters about how much they love the theater, how much they want to be stars. We have to see and feel how much they love the glare of the footlights, and we don’t.


For comments on the set, scene changes, and the best of the supporting cast — along with a revised, fuller version of this review, you can pick up next Thursday’s *Inlander* at more than 750 locations throughout the Inland Northwest.
(Well, actually, you can only pick up one copy at one location. Taking multiple copies at multiple locations … jeepers, it would take you forever to read all that.)


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