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Moon Over Buffalo
by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Edward Coffield
Insight Theatre Company
July 25, 2015

Will Bonfiglio, Alan Knoll, Jenni Ryan Photo by John Lamb Insight Theatre Company

Will Bonfiglio, Alan Knoll, Jenni Ryan
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

“All the world’s a stage”, Shakespeare wrote, but for some people, the stage is their world. Insight Theatre’s latest production, Ken Ludwig’s outrageous backstage farce Moon Over Buffalo, depicts a couple of past-their-prime stage stars for whom show business is their life, although family conflicts and the lure of Hollywood complicate that life. Insight has brought this play to life in a fast-paced, laugh-a-minute production that calls to mind the theatre world of yesteryear while managing to emphasize some timeless themes as well.

Backstage at the Erlanger Theatre in Buffalo New York, celebrated stage performers George (Alan Knoll) and Charlotte Hay (Jenni Ryan) are leading a company of actors on the latest stop of a tour. They’re performing two plays in repertory–Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Noel Coward’s Private Lives. Their daughter, Rosalind (Sam Auch) used to perform with the troupe but has left showbiz for the “real world”, and returns to visit so she can introduce her parents to her new fiance, star-struck TV weatherman Howard (Will Bonfiglio). That’s only the start of the story. The rest is a comedy of many surprises, involving Rosalind’s ex-boyfriend Paul (Pete Winfrey), who still loves Rosalind; her feisty grandmother Ethel (Tommy Nolan), who rarely remembers her hearing aid; company member Eileen (Kara Overlein), who may or may not be having a fling with George; and Richard (Eric Dean White), the Hays’ lawyer, who is harboring a not-so-secret romantic interest in Charlotte.  What follows is a hilarious, slapstick farce involving love triangles, mistaken identity, mixed up performances and costumes, and in a vein similar to another famous backstage comedy,  Noises Off, lots of running in and out of doors.  It’s a story that doesn’t make a lot of sense if you take it seriously, but fortunately “serious” is about the last word you can use to describe this play–unless of course you mean “seriously funny”, because Moon Over Buffalo certainly is that.

The delightful cast has no weak links, and is led by Knoll in a memorable performance as the bombastic, vain George. He’s got the timing down to a science, especially excelling in his drunk scenes. Ryan matches him as the somewhat jaded Charlotte, who seems to be a little more grounded than her husband. Auch is fine as Rosalind, as well, especially pairing well with Winfrey as the still lovestruck Paul. Winfrey has a goofy, energetic charm about him and plays the physical comedy well. There are also strong performances from Nolan as the confrontational Ethel, White as the more subdued Richard, Overlein as the emotional Eileen, and Bonfiglio in a scene-stealing performance as the delightfully goofy Howard. This play depends a great deal on comedic timing, and these players execute that well. There’s a particularly side-splitting section in Act 2 involving a mixed-up stage performance that highlights most of the performers comic abilities and keeps the audience laughing out loud.

The scene has been set ideally by means of Peter and Margery Spack’s remarkably detailed set. The backstage of a 1950’s theatre has been meticulously recreated and decorated with all sorts of theatrical paraphernalia and Margery Spack’s excellent period-specific props.  The costumes, designed by Erin Reed, are colorful and well-suited, as well, from the 1950s clothes to the theatrical costumes for Cyrano and Private Lives. It’s a very strong technical production, providing the appropriate whimsical atmosphere for the chaotic goings-on of the show.

Laughter is the number one goal of a show like this, and Insight’s production achieves that goal with zeal and gusto.  It also provides a little window into the world of theatre in the middle of the 20th century, when television was starting to emerge as an important force in entertainment, and films had already become predominant. The main reason for a show like Moon Over Buffalo, though, is to make its audience laugh, and it does that well. It’s a zany, charming farce that holds the audience’s attention from the beginning and holds it until the end.

 Insight Theatre Company’s Moon Over Buffalo runs at the Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, Webster Groves, until August 9th, 2015.

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