By Ellen Wilson Dilks
Malvern’s People’s Light & Theatre Company (PLTC) definitely believes in the adage “Leave ‘em laughing.” They are closing out season #42 with an uproarious production of Ken Ludwig’s 1995 farce MOON OVER BUFFALO. Directed by Pete Pryor, the production runs on the Leonard C. Haas Mainstage through August 13, 2017. Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays at varying times.
Ludwig has become America’s premier farceur over the last several years—starting with the side-splittingly funny Lend Me A Tenor in 1989. Other hits include Leading Ladies, Fox on the Fairway and Shakespeare in Hollywood. MOON OVER BUFFALO is, of sorts, a Valentine to the theatre, especially those hard-working actors who perform in repertory and resident companies. Charlotte and George Hay are (much to their chagrin) in the twilight of their fame—but they still keep hoping for that big break. Their marriage is feeling the strain…
Inspired by real-life theatrical legends (and married couple) Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, the Hays have been touring the country in various classics for decades. They are currently in Buffalo performing Blithe Spirit and Cyrano de Bergerac in repertory. It is 1953, a time when television was taking a huge bite out of theatre’s revenue and talent pool. The battling Hays try to get it together when they get a call that film director Frank Capra is coming to see their matinee, but everything that can go wrong does. (The essence of farce.)
Director Pete Pryor keeps things moving at a clip, building the lunacy to a pitch as the story progresses. Pryor cut his theatrical teeth on comedy, so he knows how much is just enough. Associated with PLTC for almost a decade, he has assembled a cast of long-time company members who excel at keeping the funny grounded in reality—not an easy task. Pryor has stuffed MOON OVER BUFFALO with lots of rich moments to delight the audience. Actually, the word farce has its origins from a French word meaning “to stuff.” The play is chock full of action and the viewer leaves most satisfied.
As Charlotte and George Hay, Mary Elizabeth Scallen and David Ingram are perfectly matched. Scallen, a company member for close to sixteen years, is delightfully diva-ish as the theatrical “grande dame.” She takes it right to the top, but doesn’t go over, and gives Charlotte’s rare tender moments just the right touch. With PLTC since 1989, Ingram is masterful at both physical and verbal comedy. He delivers George’s many Shakespearean rants with relish and dives full throttle into the sight gags. Equally adept at this genre is Christopher Patrick Mullen, associated with PLTC since 2005. Mullen plays Howard, a very nebbishy weatherman who is engaged to the Hay’s daughter, Rosalind. He is a human slinky when it comes to physical comedy, and nails a laugh line every time. Julianna Zinkel tackles the role of Rosalind. A company member for ten years, Zinkel is primarily the straight man abetting the others craziness—and she does it beautifully. However, she’s no slouch in getting her share of laughs either. Company member Kevin Bergen (1999) plays Paul the stage manager/understudy. Bergen is a great foil for Ingram, matching him comedically note for note. Once engaged to Rosalind, Paul helps George keep certain secrets from Charlotte.
One of those secrets is a liaison with the ingénue, Eileen, played by frequent guest artist Tabitha Allen. Allen is adorably loopy; she makes the most of her brief stage time, endearing herself to the audience instantly. Allen’s also a terrific comedy crier. Peter DeLaurier is a hoot as the Hay’s lawyer, Richard. A company member for over three decades, he seems to be having a blast playing this highly conceited character who thinks he’s the star. Last, but most definitely not least, there’s Marcia Saunders. A part of the People’s family almost all of its 42 seasons, Saunders brings her wealth of acting experience to the role of Charlotte’s deaf mother, Ethel. She pops in, makes a pithy comment, and goes on her merry way—making the viewer laugh every time. Saunders is a gem.
As always, People’s technical staff has stepped up and created the perfect world for the actors to play in. Yoshinori Tanokura’s “green room” set is reminiscent of many I’ve seen. With its varying levels and requisite doors (five this time), it allows Pryor some terrific staging options. John Hoey lights everything perfectly and Christopher Colucci provides a snappy 50s soundscape. Marla Jurglanis’ costumes are a delight. Not only does she evoke the style of the mid 1950s to a tee, she also provides fabulous Cyrano costumes, as well as the glitzy 30s looks for a quick scene from Blithe Spirit. Well done. I must give another shout out to stage manager Kate McSorley Fossner, who keeps everyone—and everything—on point.
MOON OVER BUFFALO is about actors, yes. However—it’s also about family and friendships that become like family. Because People’s Light has such a rich company of resident actors, the audience instantly feels the connections between these characters; the relationships are very real. The long association these actors have enjoyed both onstage and off comes shining through. You can see they’ve been sparked by their director and now spark each other as they perform this hilarious play. All of those ingredients blend beautifully and the flavors will become even richer as the run progresses.
There are plenty of laughs for everyone—even if you’ve never set foot on a stage. Treat yourself to a couple of hours of pure silly.
If you go: MOON OVER BUFFALO, July 19—August 13, 2017 on the Leonard C. Haas Mainstage at People’s Light & Theatre, 39 Conestoga Road (Route 401) in Malvern, PA 19355. Box Office 610-644-3500, or visit www.peopleslight.org Performances are Tuesday thru Sunday, with the Box Office open from noon until 6pm daily.