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‘Moon Over Buffalo’ entertains like high-energy game of Whac-a-Mole


Moon 006LNot all the drama at a theatrical production takes place on stage, and that’s certainly the case in playwright Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, which hits the boards at the Center for Performing Arts Bonita Springs for five performance beginning tonight. There’s enough backstage shenanigans in this play to fill five episodes of the Kardashians, without all the skin. The story’s about Narcissistic Moon 011LB-List celebs who involve their entire family in their self-aggrandizing exploits, romantic misadventures and pursuit of enduring fame. In other words, it’s just the kind of entertainment we’ve come to love and expect in the era of reality television.

Except that Moon Over Buffalo is set in 1953, and the celebs involved are George and Charlotte Hay. Moon 012LAlthough they’ve attained fame as thespians, their success has never translated into careers in film. But that’s about to change. The famous director Frank Capra (for younger readers, he directed such classics as It’s a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take It With You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) is looking for an actor to take the place of the lead in his new movie who’s broken both legs on the first day of filming. On top of that, his leading lady has walked off the set, so Moon 017LCapra has to recast her part in the film as well.

Unfortunately, one insignificant little problem has cropped up. Just before they get the call advising them that Capra is flying in to catch their matinee qua audition, Charlotte discovers that her husband has become involved with the buxom young ingénue who’s taken their daughter’s place in the play. Moon 019LWorse, he’s gotten her pregnant. Now Charlotte is leaving the bastard for their attorney, who’s had unrequited feelings for her for years.

But Charlotte can delay leaving George for a shot at the silver screen.

Unfortunately, another insignificant little problem has cropped up. Faced with the end of their marriage and on-stage partnership, George now realizes he’s still in love with his wife. He decides to seek the solution to his relationship problems in Moon 026Lthe bottom of bottle of Chevas Regal.

In his stupor, George thinks they’re performing Cyrano de Bergerac for that afternoon’s matinee instead of Private Lives, which is the show that’s been advertised. To complicate matters, George and Charlotte’s daughter, Rosalind, has picked this particular day to show up to introduce her fiance’ to mom and dad, the ingénue, Eileen, is nowhere to be found, and Charlotte’s stone-deaf mother has inadvertently Moon 032Lspiked the coffee the production manager, Paul, is pouring down George’s throat in an attempt to sober him up.

Yes, this is a farce of the highest order, somewhat similar in tone to Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, and the cast mines the script for every conceivable laugh during this two-hour, high-energy performance that doesn’t have a dull moment in it.

But what makes this farce so distinctive and interesting is the way in which Anne Dodd and Dena Galyean play their roles as Charlotte and Moon 038LRoz Hay, respectively. Both characters are long-suffering women willing to settle for passionless relationships with boring but stable men rather than endure the foibles of the men who actually stir their imaginations and make their pulses race. It’s Kiss Me Kate in reverse. It’s Lucy and Desi turned upside down.

Dodd has honed her formidable acting chops primarily as a Moon 040Ldramatic artist. She confesses that she’s somewhat new to comedy; that it’s a departure from the types of plays she normally appears in and directs. But her experience and background as a dramatic actor produces an alluring brand of comedrama that grounds her character and infuses her with a dry, almost chagrined wit. She’s on stage most of the play, but during those rare scenes when she’s not, you find yourself waiting impatiently for her return. Her comedic timing is impeccable. Her delivery is like, well, a knee or hat box to the crotch.

Moon 045LGalyean’s Rosalind is her mother’s daughter. But her plight is doubly droll. She has to deal with not one, but two irascible men or settle for a goofy star-struck weatherman who harbors theatrical aspirations of his own. Galyean plays the role brilliantly and could patent the look of exasperation and disgust she shoots off and on throughout the play. As a blond, she conjures images of Renee Zellweger in Chicago, but when she dons a short raven wig in the play’s final act to single-handedly perform the opening scene in Private Lives, she’s all Moon 050LCatherine Zeta Jones!

Farce is clearly Patrick Day’s forte. CFABS audiences will remember him as the Irish cop O’Hara in the Arsenic & Old Lace in March of 2016. He’s an excellent drunk, but the source of the comedy he brings to the role is his ability to convey to the audience that the problem with his character is that he’s played the part of Cyrano de Bergerac one too many times. George is a brash, strong-willed man of many talents, but instead of an oversized proboscis, it’s his obsession with his own fame and Moon 057Lcelebrity that mars his ability to commit totally to the one woman who makes him whole. You’d never know from the way he commands the stage or spouts Shakespeare that he’s an engineer by day … and not the choo-choo train kind.

Todd Fleck turns in another solid performance (he was Marty Pascal in The House of Yes and Alfred Rehm in Happy, both for Lab Theater) as the increasingly Moon 060Lflummoxed production manager who’s in love with George and Charlotte’s daughter, Roz. Recent Gulf Coast High graduate Miranda Silano is hysterical as the pregnant ingénue Eileen. She cries like Lucille Ball, with her wails cutting through the audience like a hot knife through room-temperature butter.

Carole Fernstermacher could not be funnier as Charlotte’s hearing-impaired mom. Rumor has it that she’s still trying sew Moon 069Lher detested son-in-law’s pants back together.

Bill Owens and Steve Cobb are diamonds in the rough. Both are making the transition from improv to acting in their roles as Howard (the meteorologist) and Richard Maynard (the lawyer in love), respectively. There’s a scene where Owens’ character dresses up like General George Patton that’s a real show stopper. Cobb’s character is a bit more sedate, but Cobb must be a pretty good Moon 073Lactor because he actually makes the audience feel sympathy for his character – and making anyone feel sorry for a lawyer is no easy task.

There are many truly funny scenes in this show. Early on, George and Charlotte engage in some sword play as they rehearse Cyrano de Bergerac. It has all the attributes of foreplay, and reveals that they’re both still very much in love with each other although that love can be a dangerous affair. Day and Dodd are married in real life, and one can only imagine how many lamps they’ve broken and furniture they’ve overturned as they practiced Moon 082Ltheir dueling at home in their living room and down the hall to their bedroom.

But the funniest part to the entire show is unquestionably the fairly long chase scene that takes place in Act One. No, there are no cars or even horse-drawn carriages in the Moon Over Buffalo. But there are doors galore, and the cast spends half of the first act chasing each other in one and out the other doors as they look for George, look for Charlotte and even try to locate crusty old Ethel and George’s missing Moon 087Ltrousers. It’s hard not to get swept up in the non-stop action, which is as frenetic and riveting as a game of Whac-a-Mole. Kudos to director Gary Obeldobel for orchestrating all these rapid-fire entrances and exits – which pose the ever-present possibility of lethal head-on collisions.

It’s one thing to read in a review that a particular production is funny and worth seeing. It’s quite another to learn that the actors in the production couldn’t wait to be cast in their roles. When Dena Galyean learned that CFABS was producing Moon Over Buffalo and that Gary Obeldoble was directing, she speed-dialed Dodd, Day and Fleck. The four of them arrived for the audition together, Moon 099Lmaking an entrance as if they were “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It couldn’t have been a more fortuitous entrance.

If you’re looking for stellar comedic acting and a couple of hours of sidesplitting laughter, go see this play. But don’t tarry. It opens tonight, but closes Sunday. So there’s no time to lose. After all, Frank Capra’s on the way and you can’t keep a director of that caliber waiting too long.

End 05LJuly 19, 2017.


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