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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Beverly Theatre Guild's Moon Over Buffalo, Collins, Massaro, Nearly Kill Audience with Laughter


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I don't often engage in post production reviews, but in the case of the Beverly Theatre Guild's one weekend production of Ken Ludwig's Moon Over Buffalo, the production was so fine, the acting so outrageous and sublime, that for the benefit of future audiences in the area who often have only a one or two weekend run to see a BTG show, I felt that it was worth the effort to tell you what a marvelous gut-wrenching laugh riot you probably missed this weekend at Chicago's Beverly Art Center at 111th and South Western Avenue.

I've taken the liberty of reproducing parts of the program so that if you recognize the names of these actors in listings of productions in local papers in the future you know that you should make the effort to toddle on down to the theater to see them in action.

There wasn't a single performance that wasn't worth seeing in this extremely well directed production by director Tobi Lowrance with assistance from Assistant Director Francesca Scalzi who took a great script updated it with a combination of new and veteran actors and crafted a fast-moving and emotionally moving comedy and farce of high order.

Moon Over Buffalo, the story of 1950's couple George and Chalotte Hay, the touring repertory family company stars of the style of the Lunts, the Barrymores, or the Zimablists, who displaced by film and television, find the profitablility of the road touring companies drying up and their way of life dissapearing. They are facing the possibility of fiancial and relationship ruin when they get a phone call suggesting that film director Frank Capra will be in the Matinee audience of the day's show to see if George is fit to take over the lead of his new film, just as he has lost two of his own essential players.

The BTG's production was a door-slaming, sword-fighting, knee-to-groin below the belt guffaw generator of the highest or lowest order, depending on how you look at it. Joe Collins as George and Meg Massaro as Charlotte under the direction of Lowrance and Scalzi make us wonder sometimes if the War of the Roses was kid stuff as Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner did not play people who had the whole repetoire of classic theatre to fight, kick, scratch, curse and make asses of themselves with.

Both actors tender the performances of their lives with split-second timing, perfect delivery, no fear of looking foolish in either of them, both hungerly seeking the comic truth in each and every moment of the show, yet at the same time, they show that the other side of hate is deep and abiding love, not indifference, and the changes both George and Charlotte go through during the course of the show, as they beat by beat avoid the easy way out of each line or moment in the show, and provide the audience with richness and emotional truth instead in a way that is stunningly honest and laughingly true.

Massaro and Collins are perfectly matched. Massaro's antics reminded me of Carol Burnett with a kind of subtle restraint while prancing across the stage in antics of anger, hostility and rapturous joy, that make her highs more realistic and just as funny as Burnett.

Collins, known widely as the voice of WBBM's traffic reports, and a community theatre veteran, gives what is perhaps the best and most challenging performance of his life. An expert in physical and character comedy, Collins is forced to add the romance of Romeo, the pathos of lear, the errors of Falstaff, and the drunken blindness of Stanley and Merrythought.

As George plunges though the stormy seas of this farce, swooping up and down, driven by the winds of fate, opportunity, his own stupidity, and the heights of fortune and misfortune, instead of a farcicle charade of a man, Collins gives us a man complete, torn by the pain he has brought to those he loves, wracked and ruined by remorse, blindly attempting to get on with it anyway, until at last our everyman falls, the great fall and lands as low as any man can, worse yet, in front of an icon of his dreams, the key to his future. Neitzsche or Kafka could not have planned it so well.

At this point in the show, many actors, would allow the script in hand to carry him on, riding on it to safely breezing through to the end; but Collins takes emotional risks in keeping with his growing maturity as an actor, baring his emotions in a way that gives Massaro room to do the same. So at the end of the farce, instead of a lighthearted wrapping up of ends a la Charley's Aunt, we have the two confronting the pain and trauma they have endured in their lives together and grow, together, changed by the ordeal they have suffered, to become someone new while remaining to themselves true.

Breathtaking and moving. I wish you could have been there. Watch for the cast in other productions.

Their daughter Roz, played by Lisa Marie Marciano and her estranged ex-boxfriend Paul played by Lorenzo Blackett are forcefully thrust together by the circumstances of the day in which Roz had only intended to introduce her new fiance Howard, played by David Korzatkowski to her parents, but is sucked back in to the chaos of the day by the disappearance of the production's Ingenue Eileen, played by Tiffani M. Moore. Marciano and Blackett are wonderfully cast and provide both a dramatic and, it must be said, very steamy, dramatic tension, that adds to the sweetness of the farce. Korzatkowski and Moore both bring and empty headed playfulness to their roles that crank up the tension, humor, and guffaws at just the right time. Like Collins,Massaro, Marciano and Blackett, Korzatkowski has an incredible sense of physical comedy, perhaps equal to that of Joe Collins who's own mastery of the physical comedic art form stops the show at three or four points, minimum.

In fact, it should be noted, that in the performance that I saw, Collins was so funny, that his last antic at the end of a scene in Act II, caused a second wave of laughter to start well after the blackout, as the audience re-visualized what they had seen him do just before the lights went out. Something I have never seen in 45 years of theater. A new spontaneous wave of laughter spreading through the audience while sitting in the darkness, starting a good 15 seconds after the lights went out, without a smart alec comment to trigger it. Unbelievable. Joe was just THAT funny.

Rick Baker was also excellent and very believable as Richard, the love-struck friend who wishes to steal Charlotte away from George and their near poverty and terrible traveling conditions. Presaging the aging baby-boom romanic love interest, Baker is suave, debonair, and quite convincing a someone who George could perceive as a threat to take away the woman he truly loves, Charlotte because of a moments weakness.

In every farce of this caliber there has to be a foil that comes in and out delivering sharp lines to skewer the leads. In this show it is Ethel, Charlotte's mother and the bane of George's existence played by South Side theater veteran Jan Dignan. Saying just how long Dignan has been treading he boards out here with her sister Choch would be telling. But this is truly one of her best performances and she plays the part of the wiley, cantankerous mother and seamstress with joy, verve and cunning nastiness and with a great deal of depth. One of her best performances as well and I have seen many of them.

So why did I love this show so much. I've given you a good deal of plot, but nothing that would make you laugh I think. That's because a great deal of the humor comes directly from the acting and directing in the show. It has to stand as one of the funniest shows I have ever seen (that of course I have not been in myself...).

I laughed hard and long and so did the rest of the audience. There were constant surprises. Hardly a line went wrong. The timing and tension required to keep the show moving was constantly upheld. Nary a line was swallowed. The pacing was fabulous and the cast seemed to know JUST How long to hold for a laugh to allow the audience to laugh.

And the show moved fast. A credit to the actors and directors. With intermissions the show ran well under two hours. It easily could have run 20 minutes longer with a less experienced cast. Lowrance and Scalzi seemed to have an instinct for getting the best out of their cast, using their strenghts to their best advantage.

Moore for example, the ingenue with something extra, who causes a huge fuss between George and jealous Charlotte, plays the wide-eyed innocent with aplomb until the time comes to reveal that she has more underneath than some had suspected and she gets exactly what she wants. Played to a t.

Blackett's performance as the frenetic manager and lover, and a much more determined lover than able manager, is a perfect foil to George as George freaks out, (Woody Allen on steroids without the accent), In his unique non-George way Blackett panics about whole groups of issues, but not when it comes to Roz. His changes when it comes to Roz are as surprising and funny, as they are tempting and disturbing to Roz's confidence in her engagement. Paul is after all, looking for an engagement of another kindl For a moment we think we are about to see another show altoghether when a plot element breaks the two apart before anything really good happens. Whew! It had been getting hot in there.

Marciano's conflicts as the daughter in search of normality, trying to break away from the perpetual craziness of her parent's life is also compelling, except, when disaster strikes, she is sucked back into it all to easily.

Credit must go of course to the writer of this gem, Ken Ludwig, who captured so well the essence of the times and the desires of those who wished to grasp fame and maintain their life on stage before it melted away.

So, were this show to go another weekend, which it cannot, sadly, I would have soundly recommended it. Instead, the best I can do is say, remember the actors, and the directors, and the group, the Beverly Theatre Guild, one of Chicago's oldest community theater groups.

Next Season BTG Plans to produce:
The Irish drama Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel, October 24-26, 2008
The Musical The Full Monty by Terrance McNally and David Yazbek, February 6-9,2009
The Comedy Twentieth Century by Ken Ludwig, May 8-10th, 2009

You can print the form on this page to order season tickets and save $12 or more on ticket prices.

Hot Trash From the Audience: There was speculation about how full the monty would be for the full monty, and a few jokes in the audience about whether we would want to see some of our friend's montied at all. I assured those I sat with that I was not intending to audition as I wanted to help BTG build an audience rather than send them running to the exits, possibly scarred for life. More on that when they get closer to the production next year.

I am tired after being wired from the excitement of a great production so I hope the cast and you will forgive any typos herein. As always if you have a theatre production in the Chicago/NW Indiana Region to Promote send me the information well in advance to "Thepeteterfilesblog" At "Gmail" Dot "Com" and I will be happy to post what I can.

It helps a lot if you give me something in ready to post format. If you have pictures, especially at a website that I can link to, give me the links, or send me the photos as attachments and I will be glad to post what I can. As time has passed I do get quite a bit of response from actors knowing quite a few of them myself.

Finally, congratulations to the whole cast and crew of Moon over Buffalo. While I spent more time on Collins and Massaro, a production this complex does not succeed without incredible coordination and effort both onstage and backstage, a true ensemble effort. A.D. Scalzi was also the Stage Manager for the show, something she has a gift for. The show has a nightmarish number of entrances and exits, yet she looked calm and collected before the performance. The tech for the show was also perfect and the sets by Emil Zbella were also superb (as always Emil).

Peter, Chief Editor and Spelling Wrecker
The Peter Files Blog of Comedy, Jokes, Satire, Commentary and Videos

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