Despite the title of Ken Ludwig’s madcap farce MOON OVER BUFFALO, now at the Village Playbox of Haddon Heights, the moon is nowhere in sight because most of the action takes place in the afternoon. But when it does rise, you can be sure it will be full, considering the inspired lunacy on stage.
Ludwig is a playwright who knows that good farce depends on characters at the mercy of situations, some of which (but not all) they created for themselves. Here we have George and Charlotte Hay (Michael Hicks and Carolyn Hand), a “ham actor” couple who head a traveling repertory company in the year 1953. They are now in Buffalo, New York performing CYRANO DE BERGERAC and Noel Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES—although sometimes they don’t know which play they’re doing. . They seem to have a good physical relationship, but this has not prevented George from dallying with Eileen (Lindsey Kowal), a young actress in the company, and now she is pregnant and frantic. When George tells Charlotte about this in his own inimitable way, she beats him up (really!) and prepares to run off with her lawyer, Richard (Ed Clarke), who is mad about her. While Charlotte is out of the room, George hears from his agent that famous movie director Frank Capra is considering casting him and Charlotte in his next picture and is coming to see that day’s matinee. When he tells Charlotte, she doesn’t believe him. She runs off with Richard and George runs off to tour the local bars.
Other characters become involved in the resulting mayhem through no fault of their own. The Hays’ daughter Rosalind, called Roz (Dina Spadaro), who left theatre to live a “normal” life, arrives to introduce her fiancé, Howard (Jason Pollock), a TV weatherman. Poor Howard is eventually mistaken twice for somebody else. Paul (Scott Mandel), an actor and stage manager, is Roz’s ex-fiance and still in love with her. And who could forget Ethel (Nancy Popolow), Charlotte’s cantankerous, hard-of-hearing mother, who despises George but tries to help in any way she can.
Charlotte returns, having learned that the news about Capra is true, only to find that George is gone, leaving a note saying that he’ll be back in three days. Now she, Roz and Paul have to find George and try to sober him up before the matinee. And this is only the first act.
Suzanne Baldino Jones directed at a lively farcical pace and has obviously chosen her cast carefully. Hicks is amazing as George with his flair for physical comedy. His drunk scene in the second act drew applause as well as laughter from the first-night audience. Carol Burnett played Charlotte in the Broadway production, but it’s hard to imagine her being any better than Carolyn Hand. Spadaro and Mendel are appealing as Roz and Paul, a couple meant for each other. Pollock’s Howard is the typical likeable nerd who is outrageously mistreated but doesn’t end up too badly. Popolow is hilarious as Ethel, who doesn’t always wear her hearing aid. Kowal as Eileen and Clarke as Richard have smaller roles, but get their share of laughs.
The cast performs admirably within the limits of a small stage, thanks to good set and lighting design. A scene requiring an orchestra pit (nonexistent) is handled in the best way possible.
This production has a few risqué moments, and is recommended for mature audiences. But for sheer entertainment and fun, it can’t be beaten.
MOON OVER BUFFALO
by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Suzanne Baldino Jones
May 4-18, 2013
The Village Playbox
First Presbyterian Church
28 Seventh Avenue
Haddon Heights, NJ 08035