Buffalo, New York’s Erlanger Theater is hosting the repertory company of George and Charlotte Hay (Dodds Delzell & Madeleine Ashe), grade-B actors and grade-A hams who never made it big on stage. Content to spend their waning years touring second-rate theatres and playing roles more appropriate for actors half their age, they’re on the ropes when word comes to George that Frank Capra is coming to see them perform and possibly cast them as replacements for Ronald Coleman and Greer Garson in a big-budget period film.
Charlotte doesn’t believe George as she’s just found out he’s been lying about an affair he had with company ingenue Eileen (Victoria Saitz) who happens to be carrying George’s child. Charlotte announces she’s running off with family friend/attorney Richard (Joe Winkler) which sends George into a drunken spiral. Charlotte finds out the Capra story is true, so it’s up to Charlotte, her recently returned daughter Rosalind (Chandler Parrot-Thomas), her daughter’s ex-lover and current stage manager Paul (Robert Nelson) and Charlotte’s hearing-impaired mother Ethel (Shirley Nilsen Hall) to sober up George in time for the matinee. There’s also the confusion over Rosalind’s current fiancé Howard (Erik Weiss), a TV weatherman who is mistaken by Charlotte for Capra and by George as Eileen’s vengeful brother, and a concluding performance of Noël Coward’s Private Lives mashed up with Cyrano de Bergerac.
Director Carl Jordan has a terrific cast of comedic talents running, jumping, stumbling and rolling through Ludwig’s tale which comes off as a lesser knock-off of his superior Lend Me a Tenor. All the elements are there (mistaken identity, feuding lovers, running jokes, etc.) but at its core it’s a hollow re-do that starts slowly before hitting its stride. More problematic, the characters as written simply aren’t very likeable. The show only works if you care about the characters and want them to get out of their mess. I just didn’t.
The set by Jason Jamerson is solid – literally, as it has to withstand two hours of door slamming – and it’s one of the better sets seen recently on 6th Street’s stage. The cast is game and their timing is great with each squeezing some laughs out of their characters. Delzell gets to play half the show soused, Parrot-Thomas is quite delightful as Rosalind, and while Weiss’s physical comedy is always fun to watch, I’d really like to see him do something different with his next role.
Moon Over Buffalo is a case where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
‘Moon Over Buffalo’ runs Friday through Sunday through February 3 at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; the Sunday matinee is at 2pm. There’s a Thursday, January 24 performance at 7:30 pm
For more information, go to 6thstreetplayhouse.com