IF YOU GO
What: Farce about washed-up actors making a last-gasp bid for fame in 1950s Buffalo, New York
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: 528 Cultural Park Blvd., Cape Coral
Cost: $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $13 for children.
Information: 239-772-5862 or culturalparktheater.com
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
CAPE CORAL — Is Buffalo, New York the ends of the earth? Cultural Park Theatre asks this question in "Moon Over Buffalo," a cute, quirky love letter to performing from farceur Ken Ludwig. Laughs come at first with a trickle and then a flood as the world's worst theater company struggles to put on a matinée.
Ken Ludwig writes sturdy farces - lots of goofy plots, mistaken identities, characters yelling and loads of slamming doors. Four of his works land in theaters across Southwest Florida this year: "Lend Me A Tenor" at Florida Rep, "Moon Over Buffalo" at Cultural Park, "Leading Ladies" at the Naples Players and "The Fox on the Fairway" in the Off-Broadway Palm.
"Buffalo" takes a peek backstage at the Erlanger Theatre in June 1953. George and Charlotte Hay have toured the country putting on plays, coming near to greatness, but now they're in Buffalo, broke, with actors leaving left and right because they haven't been paid. The second showgirl from the left comes up pregnant (it was George, in Connecticut, in the closet with a bottle of gin). And Frank Capra might be in the audience to audition the couple for his new movie.
Chaos reigns as prodigal daughter Rosalind returns with a fiancée, a rich lawyer shows up to romance Charlotte, someone spikes the coffee, the matinée schedule flips between "Cyrano de Bergerac" and Noel Coward's "Private Lives" and poor granny Ethel keeps mending (and ripping) the tights. Would you hire these folks? And leave them unsupervised in your theatre? Sure! Let the laughs begin!
Farce offers difficulties for even professional actors. Cultural Park attracts amateur actors of the truest stripe; director Nancy Fueyo and assistant director Patricia Clopton know this. They help the cast concentrate on the moments that will get big laughs, like bickering couples, silly stunts (those poor pants) and a marvelous drunken scene that proves the highlight of the play.
These amateurs do well and there are places that shine, but the show needs an extra gear or three to truly reach the outrageous heights promised in Ludwig's script. Then too, I saw the show on Saturday night, after the cast had already put in a full week of last-minute rehearsals, Friday's opening and a matinée; this may account for the ebbing energy levels.
Relative newcomer Patrick Day scores as stressed-out company leader George Hay. It takes skill to "act drunk," and he accomplishes it. Watching him clatter through a scene from "Private Lives" while dressed as Cyrano de Bergerac (complete with nose) brings huge laughs. Sword waving, words spouting and stringy hair flying, he sells the ridiculous, hilarious sequence. He and on-stage wife Suzanne Davies (Charlotte) share a comic scene where she beats him around the stage with a rolled-up copy of "Variety."
Lisa Kuchinski (Rosalind), Louis Monaco (Howard), Shelley Sanders (Eileen) and Nelson Sanders (Paul) add spark as a quartet of bright young things that run in and out of doors, make trouble, get things confused and generally get in the way. Look for veteran actress Clopton as cranky company manager Ethel. Her deaf old lady always has the last laugh - and a put-down for every occasion!
Michael Moran's set comes across basic but serviceable. I wish the multiple doors actually slammed (or made any kind of noise) as the actors continually whisked through them. The set also appears far back on the stage, even given the need to stage two short scenes in front of the fake "curtain." The wide gulf muffles voices (even with raised floor mics) and keeps the cast from forming any kind of rapport with the audience. Costumes, from Ana Perez, amuse - especially for the elegant "Private Lives" sequence.
Explore Cape Coral. See what kind of "Moon" rises over the canals. Compare the farces of Ken Ludwig - and laugh at the silliness of "Cyrano" mixed with Noel Coward!
Who runs "Cyrano de Bergerac" in repertory with "Private Lives?" Email me, email@example.com. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.