Entertainment » Theatre

Moon Over Buffalo

by Harker Jones
Thursday Jan 25, 2018
Edwin Scheibner and Haley Rade in "Moon Over Buffalo."
Edwin Scheibner and Haley Rade in "Moon Over Buffalo."  

When Ken Ludwig's over-the-top farce "Moon Over Buffalo" hit Broadway back in 1995, it lured none other than show biz legend Carol Burnett to the Great White Way after 30 years. Despite earning two Tony noms (including one for Burnett), the show never quite caught on. Slapstick is difficult to pull off. It's easy to fall into sitcom territory with hammy acting and scenery chewing -which, of course, when done right, can be amusing. Unfortunately, "Moon Over Buffalo" relies on obvious, cornball jokes and energy bordering on mania to move its story along.

Centered backstage of a third-tier repertory theater in Buffalo, New York, in 1953, two aging actors, George (Edwin Scheibner) and Charlotte (Wendy Way) are visited by their daughter, Roz (Desiree Gillespie), who has left the family business for a "normal" life working in advertising, and her fiancé, Howard (Josh Breeding), an eager-to-please, gee-whiz weatherman. When George and Charlotte get word that film director Frank Capra ("It's a Wonderful Life," "It Happened One Night," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington") is coming to see them to possibly cast them in his new film, all hell breaks loose with misunderstandings, mugging, pratfalls and romantic entanglements that make iconic '70s sitcom "Three's Company" look subtle in comparison. Throw in an amorous lawyer (Jack Stroud) who is pursuing Charlotte, Roz's ex-beau Paul (Eric Pierce), and Charlotte's mother, Ethel (Rebecca Tudor), shake well and you get a fizzy concoction that sometimes overflows its cup.

Directed by Michael Thomas-Visgar, "Moon Over Buffalo" is a throwback to screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s, and while the first act is zany it is also a little creaky. Ludwig's script sets up some amusing situations but despite the dialogue being somewhat clever, some are also not as clever as it should be - or thinks it is.

Part of the problem is that a farce comes with such heightened situations that it often lends itself to melodrama and overacting. The two actors who hit just the right balance are Breeding, who hits his marks perfectly as the hapless and hopelessly sunny potential son-in-law, and Pierce, a handsome everyman who ends up being the MVP. Together, they steal the show.

The creative set by Will Sawyer has five doors so the characters can run all over the place, giving the stage a lot of breathing room. One sequence in particular, in the better, second act after everything has been set in motion, makes classic use of every door with everyone ducking in and out, chasing and being chased, and it's then that the show finally gels, hitting the perfect balance of insanity and brilliance.

It all builds to a madcap finale with a fair payoff despite the play running about 20 minutes too long. That said, the entire cast gives it their all and the audience ate it up, thrilling to all the puns and innuendos. And in the end, it's all about entertaining the audience.

"Moon Over Buffalo" runs through February 11 at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90405. For tickets, call 310.828.7519 or go to Morgan-Wixson.org.


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