In “Moon Over Buffalo,” award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig delivers a script that crackles with the electric banter of a George S. Kaufman classic and convulses audiences with the primal appeal of the internet’s most popular cat memes.
For the Hilberry Theatre’s opening night, we were sitting next to a couple of WSU students and in front of two senior citizens, and it’s hard to say who laughed loudest or longest. Directed by WSU professor Dr. Blair Anderson, this production of “Moon Over Buffalo” amplifies the clever banter with a classic combination of sight gags, physical humor, silly props, and classic double-takes – employed by this young Hilberry cast with the flawless timing of Broadway veterans.
In fact, this Ludwig script originally saw light as the vehicle for one of Broadway’s best; “Moon Over Buffalo” brought Carol Burnett back to the Great White Way in 1995. And it doesn’t hurt that this is “Green Room comedy” at its most frantic – a play about people in the business of putting on a play, as viewed from behind the curtain.
Set in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1953, we discover a famous but fading theatre couple, George (Brent Griffith) and Charlotte Hay (Bevin Bell-Hall), as they struggle to reignite their careers, their marriage and their passion for the stage. Ludwig’s script includes references to real celebrities of the day – Ronald Coleman, Greer Garson, Frank Capra and others – who are crowding the spotlight that the Hay’s are so desperate to squeeze into. The only thing they need is a lucky break – and the right people to see the right performance of the shows their small repertory company has been touring.
Helping out by making costumes, coffee, and an occasional on-stage appearance, is Charlotte’s mother Ethel (Megan Barbour). Ethel seems to be the only unflappable one in the Hay’s company, most likely because she is stone deaf and blissfully unaware of the histrionics happening all about her. Of course, her deafness isn’t always a blessing. When she’s asked to pour out a bottle of whiskey and brew some fresh coffee, she thinks she’s been asked to pour the whiskey into the Irish coffee. The results are anything but sobering.
Complicating life in the Hay’s theatre company is the fact that their only daughter Rosalind (Danielle Cochrane) has left the theatre and her actor boyfriend Paul (Miles Boucher) to pursue a “normal” life. In fact, Rosalind has brought her new fiancé, Howard (Brandon Grantz), to the theatre to introduce him to her parents. Rosalind’s timing isn’t great. The day she arrives, Charlotte has resolved to leave George and run off with lawyer-to-the-stars Richard (Brandy Joe Plambeck) because she’s discovered that George has been dallying with the company’s ingénue, Eileen (Sarah Hawkins Moan). And when star-struck Howard wanders backstage, Charlotte thinks he is Frank Capra and George thinks he’s an assassin. Some in the company think they’re performing “Cyrano” for the matinee, and some think they’re doing Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.” And everyone thinks they are the only sane person in the room.
This is a funny, funny play. Best of all, in this flawless Hilberry production, director Anderson treats the material like a good wine – he give it room to breathe. The cast has some funny stage business, and many of the show’s best moments happen between the scripted lines.
Bevin Bell-Hall, as Charlotte Hay, is an unstoppable force, with seemingly telekinetic powers to thrill and threaten the men around her with just a look. She is wonderfully paired with Brent Griffith, who gives us an urbane, ego-centric yet somehow endearing hack who has blurred the lines between life in front of and behind the red velvet curtain.
Indeed, for the Hays Company and for anyone caught in their orbit, there is no “off stage.” And for anyone who loves theatre, or simply loves to laugh, “Moon Over Buffalo” is just the thing. If you are lucky enough to be a Hilberry season ticket holder, you’ll love seeing the actors you loved from such plays as “Macbeth” and “Othello” flex their comic muscle. Indeed, even the audience will burn calories by non-stop aerobic laughing.
The Hilberry production team supporting Blair Anderson includes: Courtney Rasor (Stage Manager), Sarah Drum (Asst. Stage Manager), Max Amitin (Scenic Design), John D. Woodland (Costume Designer), Leah McCall (Lighting Designer), Brian Dambacher (Technical Director), Michael “Mick” Keathley, II (Sound Designer), Tonae Mitsuhashi (Properties Master), Heather DeFauw (Master Electrician), Kevin Replinger (Publicity Manager).
”Moon Over Buffalo” runs in rep through April 5; check the theatre calendar for exact dates and times. Tickets range from $12–$30 and are available online, by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at 313- 577-2972, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock Street in Detroit.