MOON OVER BUFFALO, now playing at the North Coast Repertory Theatre through February 10th, is a farce that proves that sometimes the most dramatic action is happening behind the scenes in the green room.
George (Arthur Hanket) and Charlotte Hay (Katrina Ferguson) are in Buffalo with their (failing) touring theatre company playing CYRANO DE BERGERAC and PRIVATE LIVES in repertory when they hear that an actor has to be replaced on the set of Frank Capra’s newest film. Even better is that Capra is on his way to see them perform their show as possible replacements on the film!
Both George and Charlotte Hay are theatre actors of some renown (though aiming to upgrade to “great renown”) by getting back into the movie industry to save their theatre, their careers, and possibly their marriage. George is a philanderer, and Charlotte has a side thing going on with their lawyer Richard (Matthew Salazar-Thompson). While George and Charlotte bicker about the state of their relationship their daughter Rosalind (Jacque Wilke) has returned in an impromptu visit to introduce them to her fiancé Howard (Arusi Santi) who is the local weatherman and super fan of her parents.
Charlotte’s mother Ethel (Roxane Carrasco) is their reluctant costume person, and though she may be deaf without her hearing aid, she has no problem hearing anything bad that is to be said of George. Rosalind’s ex-boyfriend, and theatre company manager Paul (Josh Braaten) is trying to keep the show running, which only gets harder when ingénue Eileen (Brittney Bertier) announces that she is pregnant and it’s George’s child!
Directed by Matthew Wiener, this play is a high energy farce with all of the required elements: over the top characters, improbable situations, mistaken identity, physical pratfalls, rapid entrances and exits, and the slamming of every single door. It’s hard to know how the cast has the energy for their final bows at the end of the performance.
The first act has a slow build as the characters and their backgrounds are all introduced. Everything comes to full speed in the second act, which also contains the most hilarious scenes of the show. Wilke shines as Rosalind trying to stretch out the first few lines of PRIVATE LIVES for George to come on stage, and Hanket as the increasingly drunk George who drunkenly barrels onto the stage performing as Cyrano.
Hanket and Ferguson have a good chemistry as George and Charlotte. Wilke and Braaten are standouts as bickering ex-lovers Rosalind and Paul. Salazar-Thomson is excellent as the sophisticated lawyer Richard who is besotted with Charlotte and wants her to run away with him.
The set design by Marty Burnett captures the backstage of an older theatre, and has the many doors required for the precisely timed door slamming scene. The rotating set allows for a few glimpses of the action as it unfurls on to the stage of this fictional theatre. Costumes by Elilsa Benzoni are lovely and period appropriate, and complimented by the wigs and hair by Peter Herman.
For as good as the cast is the real issue is with the script by Ken Ludwig. There is no foundation of logic, no matter how tenuous, to build this chaos upon. None of the characters are really all that likeable, making it very hard to truly root for any of them. By the time the frenetic energy of the farce is in full swing everything feels more abrasive than amusing.
Most of the action comes from George refusing to take any responsibility for his actions, getting drunk, and constantly wailing that he made “one mistake,” and baffled why Charlotte hasn’t gotten over it yet. That almost everyone else goes along with this and ultimately is resolved through a shared love of the theatre and for each other is a level of unsatisfying absurdity that is very difficult to swallow..
It all depends on how much your suspension of disbelief can withstand in the name of a farce. On opening night there were plenty of people roaring with laughter, but a cast this good deserves better.
MOON OVER BUFFALO is playing at the North Coast Repertory Theatre through February 10th. For ticket and show time information go to www.northcoastrep.org