Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008 | 2 a.m.
What is the sound of five doors slamming?
IF YOU GO
What: “Moon Over Buffalo,” a comedy by Ken Ludwig
When: Through Sept. 28
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Drive
Tickets: $19 and $22; 362-7996, www.lvlt.org
Running time: About two hours
Beyond the Sun
As it begins its 33rd season, the Las Vegas Little Theatre is more than up to the challenge of the formulaic farce “Moon Over Buffalo.” The performers are better than the material, which is just not that funny, and this waning “Moon” makes for a pleasant enough time-killer.
Ken Ludwig’s mild, nostalgic comedy is set in Buffalo, N.Y., circa 1953, and when it played on Broadway in 1995, the mere idea of Buffalo as a theater town was apparently enough of a hoot to Manhattanites to keep the show alive for nearly a year.
That, and Carol Burnett and Philip Bosco in the lead roles.
A backstage farce — it’s been done definitively by Michael Frayn with “Noises Off” — “Moon” boasts no less than five (count ’em) doors suitable for daffy entrances and slamming exits. Six, if you count the armoire, which is roomy enough to hide two or three.
George and Charlotte Hay, Charlotte’s dotty mother, Ethel, and their daughter, Rosalind, a reluctant actor, are a down-at-the-heels dynasty that has washed up in upstate New York for a dual repertory of “Cyrano de Bergerac” (cut down to five actors: the “one-nostril version”) and Noel Coward’s droll “Private Lives.” George and Charlotte fancy themselves a grand couple of the stage like Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Add to their delusions a Hollywood director, a jealous ex-boyfriend or two, a nebbishy fiance, a pregnant ingenue and whiskey in a coffee pot and eventually you get to the inevitable Act Two onstage mash-up: “Private Cyrano.”
John Ivanoff and Barbara King make a swell team as the bickering elder Hays, deftly blending the melodramatics and the slapstick — I’d like to see them in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” As the Hays’ daughter, Rosalind, Mary Foresta starts out sort of shrill, but she really comes through in her panicky actor’s nightmare, the play’s peak moment. She’s nicely matched with Jay Somers as Howard, a endearing chump who’s her stammering beau. And as hard-of-hearing (when she wants to be) matriarch Ethel, Gloria Hoffman is charming and comedically sharp.
Director Sarah O’Connell takes it all at a clip, and though the show-opening moment from “Cyrano” is a bit muddled and confusing, she neatly manages the blur of upstairs-downstairs ins and outs. The single-setting lighting and deliberately dreary set design are primitive, but adequate.
Apparently it takes an outsize, pre-existing persona like Burnett’s to make Ludwig’s shtick play. Or maybe you need to know why some people (Manhattanites) think Buffalo is funny. The script is peppered with digs:
“This is Buffalo, New York — it’s like Scranton without the charm.”
“If it wasn’t named after an animal, it would have nothing going for it.”
“If it’s a native Buffalonian, offer it some water and some long grass — maybe it will go away.”
This isn’t just sour grapes because I happen to be a native Buffalonian. We are lifetime experts in finding the funny about our sad city. I tried in vain to picture how these dusty dud-lines might be phrased so they would deserve a laugh.
On opening night Friday, the capacity audience was peppered with a claque of Las Vegas Little Theatre regulars and friends, who guffawed, chortled and tittered loudly throughout —and entirely out of proportion to what was happening onstage. I came to regard them as a live laugh track — a gimmick that never really works with TV sitcoms, and it sure doesn’t work with live theater.
Editor's note: This story was changed to correct the name of an actor.