Metropolis' 'Moon Over Buffalo' delivers laughs, but few thrills

 
 
Updated 7/15/2015 6:10 AM
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  • Battling spouses Charlotte (Lisa Savegnago) and George (Andrew Pond), right, let nothing get in their way, not even a visitor (Ryan Jozaitis), center, in Ken Ludwig's backstage comedy "Moon Over Buffalo" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.

    Battling spouses Charlotte (Lisa Savegnago) and George (Andrew Pond), right, let nothing get in their way, not even a visitor (Ryan Jozaitis), center, in Ken Ludwig's backstage comedy "Moon Over Buffalo" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Courtesy of Liz Lach

  • Things go awry during a matinee performance in Eclectic Theatre Company's revival of the backstage comedy "Moon Over Buffalo" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.

    Things go awry during a matinee performance in Eclectic Theatre Company's revival of the backstage comedy "Moon Over Buffalo" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Courtesy of Liz Lach

  • Eileen (Katie Hunter), left, realizes her brief affair with leading man George (Andrew Pond), right, is over when she interrupts a passionate moment between him and wife Charlotte (Lisa Savegnago), center, in Ken Ludwig's comedy "Moon Over Buffalo."

    Eileen (Katie Hunter), left, realizes her brief affair with leading man George (Andrew Pond), right, is over when she interrupts a passionate moment between him and wife Charlotte (Lisa Savegnago), center, in Ken Ludwig's comedy "Moon Over Buffalo." Courtesy of Liz Lach

The actors in Eclectic Theatre Company's "Moon Over Buffalo" embrace every improbability and perform with gusto every bit of slapstick director David Belew throws their way in his revival of this 1995 backstage farce by Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor") co-produced by the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.

Unfortunately, all that energy can't overcome the problems of this pedestrian comedy, which features barbs -- several of which refer to Buffalo, New York, where the play is set -- so hackneyed they should be accompanied by a rimshot. Case in point: One character describes the upstate burg as "Scranton without the charm." Another opines: "if it wasn't named for an animal, it would have nothing going for it."

Set in 1953, this tale about infidelity, indiscretion and ambition unfolds in Buffalo's Erlanger Theatre where a struggling repertory company is performing Noel Coward's "Private Lives" and Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac."

The company's principals are once bright but now faded Broadway veterans George Hay (Andrew Pond) and his wife, Charlotte (Lisa Savegnago), whose dreams of Hollywood stardom never advanced beyond supporting roles in B movies. Returning to the stage, the couple assembled a ragtag troupe that includes Charlotte's hard-of-hearing mother Ethel (Nancy Kolton), company manager Paul (Jeff Irlbeck) and Eileen (Katie Hunter), a comely young actress whose extramarital tryst with George resulted in rather more than she imagined. As for Charlotte, she's canoodling with the couple's attorney Richard (Rob Reinalda). Into this hotbed of romantic intrigue and diminishing fortunes comes George and Charlotte's daughter Rosalind (Michelle Ziccarelli), intending to introduce her TV weather forecaster boyfriend Howard (Ryan Jozaitis) to her parents, much to the dismay of former boyfriend Paul.

This already awkward situation spirals out of control following a call from Frank Capra's representative. The A-list actors in Capra's in-production film have become indisposed. The famed director is considering George and Charlotte as replacements and will attend the next day's matinee performance, which most of the actors understand will be "Private Lives," with one notable exception.

Mistaken identities and misunderstandings ensue, culminating in a matinee mash-up of Noel Coward and Edmond Rostand that is among "Moon Over Buffalo's" funniest scenes. The trouble is, there aren't enough of the them. And there's a pretty obvious plot inconsistency. Early on, before he is introduced to George and Charlotte, hapless Howard gets caught (literally) in the middle of an amusing, well-staged duel between the sword-wielding spouses (skillfully executed by Pond and Savegnago). How is it then that Charlotte -- having been up close and personal with her daughter's boyfriend during the scuffle -- mistakes him a short time later for director Frank Capra?

Savegnago is spot-on as a woman struggling to control chaos, and Pond makes a suitably hammy George. The cast is competent, but not every performance was as sharp as it could be at the second preview I attended (although I expect they will become more honed as the run continues). One exception was a terse, razor-sharp exchange during the strained reunion between Ziccarelli's Rosalind and Irlbeck's Paul that was quite funny.

Belew delivers the requisite slapstick, but overall his revival lacks urgency. We never really get a sense that the characters' various schemes are about to spin out of control, which is crucial for a farce to be successful. Great farce, when properly executed, is the theatrical equivalent of a thrill ride. Unfortunately, "Moon Over Buffalo" fails to supply the thrills, making this comedy more like a walk in the park.

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