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One Man, Two Guvnors
by Richard Bean
Based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni
With Songs by Grant Olding
Directed by Edward Stern
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
September 12, 2014

Luke Smith, Raymond McAnally Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Luke Smith, Raymond McAnally
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

One Man, Two Guvnors is funny, plain and simple.  The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has chosen this play to start off their new season, and it has certainly made an impression.  This update of the commedia dell’arte classic The Servant of Two Masters was an award-winning hit in London and on Broadway, and it’s making its St. Louis debut at the Rep in a bold, colorful, downright hilarious production that’s sure to have audiences laughing out loud.

Taking the basic plot of its earlier source and updating the setting to early 1960’s Brighton, England, One Man, Two Guvnors features a great deal of physical comedy and a convoluted plot that doesn’t make a lot of logical sense if you think about it, but that’s kind of the point. It’s not supposed to be logical–it’s supposed to be funny, and that it certainly is.   With scenes punctuated by a Skiffle band called “The WoolfPak” (Jake Heberlie, Timothy Moore, Matthew Rudolf, Jacob Stergos), the play tells the story of Francis Henshall (Raymond McAnally), an amiable and seemingly always hungry “minder” for small-time gangster Roscoe Crabbe, who has recently died, although Francis doesn’t know that. The “Roscoe” that Francis is working for is really Roscoe’s twin sister, Rachel (Keira Keeley), who has disguised herself as her brother in order to avoid detection by the police, since she was a witness to her brother’s accidental killing by her boyfriend, Stanley Stubbers (Jack Fellowes).  Now Stanley is also on the run in Brighton, unbeknownst to Rachel. Rachel also doesn’t know that Stanley has also hired Francis to work for him while he is in Brighton. She’s also tangled up in a convenience marriage arrangement between her late brother and Pauline Clench (Karis Danish), the ditzy daughter of local gangster Charlie “The Duck” (Anthony Cochrane).  The increasingly complicated plot also involves Pauline’s true love, wannabe actor Alan (Luke Smith); and Charlie’s bookkeeper Dolly (Ruth Pferdehirt), who engages in a flirtation with Francis.  Throw in some comic situations involving trunks, doors, food and a comically bumbling elderly waiter (Evan Zes), and what you get is a non-stop laugh riot that isn’t quite as confusing as it sounds but is always very, very funny.

The casting in a show like this is very important, because it requires performers with excellent timing and strong physical comedy skills, and the Rep has assembled an ideal collection of actors. McAnally and Zes especially stand out with their outrageous slapstick moments, with McAnally at turns tripping over a chair, struggling to lift a large trunk, getting into a fist fight with himself, and more, displaying a great deal of charm and wit along the way. The equally appealing Zes, in comically exaggerated old-age makeup, engages in a series of hilarious pratfalls, especially in a food serving scene in Act 1 that’s the the highlight of this production.  With the doors, the plates, and some fish, this scene is somewhat reminiscent of Noises Off, which the Rep presented in grand fashion earlier this year. Other strong performers include Pfirdehirt as the feisty, snarky Dolly; Danish as the delightfully dim Pauline; Smith as the grandiose Alan; and Keeley and Fellows as the mixed-up lovers Rachel and Stanley. There’s also good supporting work from Cochrane as Charlie, Mel Johnson, Jr. as Charlie’s friend Lloyd, and Aaron Orion Baker in a dual role as a taxi driver and as waiter Gareth.  There’s also some audience participation and some seemingly spontaneous moments of comedy (some improvised, and some only appearing to be improvised).

In addition to the non-stop, outrageous comedy, one thing that this play gets very right is its setting. With a very 60’s-styled set by Scott C. Neale, groovy lighting effects by Kirk Bookman, and appropriately period-specific costumes by David Kay Mickelsen, this show takes the audience to England in the 1960’s with a very authentic-seeming vibe.  The Skiffle band with original 60’s-styled songs is a nice touch, as well, and more moments of comedy are added when, at various times throughout the performance, various characters take turns playing an array of instruments with the band.  The band even starts off the show with a mini-concert that’s made to look like a period TV appearance. All of this atmosphere provides a great backdrop to the increasingly hilarious antics of the characters.

One Man, Two Guvnors may not be the funniest play I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely in the ballpark.   The audience on opening night was certainly appreciative, but I was surprised that there were a few empty seats, even though it was a good crowd.  A show as inventive and sidesplittingly funny as this deserves to play for packed houses. If you’re wondering whether or not you should see it, take my word for it: you should! It’s a very fun show, and it provides a great start for the Rep’s 2014-2015 season.

Raymond McAnally, Ruth Pferdehirt Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Raymond McAnally, Ruth Pferdehirt
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 

 

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