By Robert Delaney
Posted: Feb. 27, 2014 at 9:52 a.m.
The failing fortunes of a husband-and-wife acting team has brought them and their small troupe to Buffalo, N.Y., in 1953, when an unexpected chance to revive their fading careers presents itself, in Ken Ludwig’s riotously funny “Moon Over Buffalo,” now at the Hilberry Theatre on the Wayne State University campus.
True to the tradition of the stage farce, the show is full of secret relationships, mistaken identities, and doors – through which people keep entering and exiting at the most inopportune moments.
First produced in 1995, this hilarious farce served as the vehicle for Carol Burnett’s triumphant return to Broadway after several decades’ absence.
This production directed by Blair Anderson pays homage to that aspect of the play in the delightful performance of Bevin Bell-Hall as Charlotte Hay – which evokes reminiscences of the great comedienne.
We find Charlotte and George Hay (Brent Griffith) and their company drawing only modest audiences to their performances of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” and Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” during their current national tour’s stop in Buffalo.
The money’s running out; their daughter, Rosalind (Danielle Cochrane), has left the company to lead a “normal” life and marry a local Buffalo TV weatherman (Brandon Grantz); Charlotte’s nearly deaf mother, Ethel (Megan Barbour), is increasingly annoying; and something’s wrong with Eileen (Sarah Hawkins Moan), an actress in the small company.
The situation is further complicated by Paul (Miles Boucher), who doubles as an actor and the company’s business manager, and Richard (Brandy Joe Plambeck), the Hays’ high-powered show business attorney in headier times, who now wants Charlotte to dump George and run away with him.
This is a funny, funny show; one that is sure to delight those who go see it. Scenic designer Max Amitin has provided a set that is perfect for this sort of play, and John D. Woodland has done a splendid job of costuming the show. My only problem is with Griffith’s portrayal of George: He needs to be more actor-ly, if you know what I mean (think John Barrymore in “On the Twentieth Century”).
It was, of course, a major thrust of theater training for the past hundred years or so to promote a more natural style of acting, purging the art of the stentorian tones and exaggerated vocal and physical flourishes of the past. But in portraying an actor in the 1950s, who has spent most of his life on the stage – and is sufficiently vain to get called a “ham” even by those in his own company – surely some of those old faults should figure in. To play George as naturally as Griffith does strikes me as somewhat unnatural.
SHOW DETAILS: “Moon Over Buffalo” continues through April 5 at the Hilberry Theatre, at Cass and West Hancock on the WSU campus in Detroit’s Midtown area. For performance and ticket information, call 313-577-2972 or go to www.wsushows.com.