Arts & Culture

‘Moon Over Buffalo’ brings comedy, chaos to Cambria

Deirdre Loy, Toni Young, Lisa Pekarek, Nicki Browne, Justin Wessel, Joseph Whittington and Larry Barnes appear in a scene from “Moon Over Buffalo,” playing at Pewter Plough Playhouse in Cambria.
Deirdre Loy, Toni Young, Lisa Pekarek, Nicki Browne, Justin Wessel, Joseph Whittington and Larry Barnes appear in a scene from “Moon Over Buffalo,” playing at Pewter Plough Playhouse in Cambria.

“Moon Over Buffalo,” the title of Pewter Plough Playhouse’s current production, sounds like a still-life painting. However, there is no lunar orb, no bison, and nothing “still” about award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig’s hilarious, rapid-paced comedy.

All of the action takes place in one day in 1953 at the old Erlanger Theater in Buffalo, New York.

Husband-and-wife team George (Larry Barnes) and Charlotte Hay (Toni Young) are long past their acting heyday, but after 30 years of happy marriage and show business, they still dream of becoming movie stars.

The Hays do repertory theater, alternating between two plays a day. Together with the rest of their troupe, they’re “drifters” who travel from one minor venue to another, performing matinees and evening shows.

Charlotte’s mother, Ethel (Lisa Pekarek), is their stage manager. She’s also deaf and despises her son-in-law.

The Hays’ lovely daughter, Rosalind (Deirdre Loy), who recently swore off show business to lead a normal life, arrives to introduce her new fiancé, the wimpy Howard (Joseph Whittington). He’s as square as the screen he uses as a local television weatherman.

Big, handsome charismatic Paul (Justin Wessel), Rosalind’s former fiancé, is an actor with the troupe.

The Hays’ longtime attorney, dull Richard (Gene Strohl), is in love with Charlotte, and voluptuous ingénue Eileen (Nikki Brown) has a thing for George.

When the Hays get a last-minute notice that Hollywood director Frank Capra will attend that afternoon’s performance to consider them for a film he’s casting, they believe it will not only be their last chance for stardom but will also save them from financial ruin.

Most of the two-act play takes place backstage in the Erlanger Theater’s green room, a space meant for actors to relax when not performing. But this cast has no chance to relax.

In classic farce tradition, the actors come and go from the backstage entrance, enter and leave a closet, and vanish into two halls that lead to dressing rooms, bathrooms, prop rooms, the stage, and auditorium.

All this coming and going can make your head spin. Just as the action seems to be on fast-forward, so does the swift repartee. But in live theater, there’s unfortunately no way to hit reverse in order to catch all the word play, double entendres and theatrical and literary references.

Director Chrys Barnes, who has acted and directed since high school, gets excellent performances from this talented cast.

The two lead roles are especially demanding.

Larry Barnes is terrific playing an actor and family man who’s also a drunk and a cheat. Young supremely plays her role as an ambitious actress and loving but suspicious wife.

The breakneck speed contributes to potentially neck-breaking physical activity, with stumbling, falling, pushing and shoving. Larry Barnes, who is no spring chicken, especially excels in this, as does Whittington, with his pratfalls.

The Hays’ company is currently doing the 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” with George as the outrageously long-nosed Cyrano. This nose gets put to some risqué use.

The company is also doing Noel Coward’s 1930 play “Private Lives.” Playwright Ludwig cleverly incorporates aspects of Coward’s play into the second act, creating a sort of play within a play.

“Moon Over Buffalo” was a Broadway hit in 1995, even though there are similarities to Ludwig’s first Broadway show, the Tony Award-winning “Lend Me a Tenor,” which premiered in 1989. Both are set in the same time period in an eastern city and star a womanizing drunkard.

Ludwig, 66, is far from a one-trick pony, however, with credits as long as Cyrano’s nose, including six shows that have run on Broadway, and seven in London.

Contact freelance writer Lee Sutter at sutterlee@hotmail.com.

‘Moon Over Buffalo’

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through May 29

Pewter Plough Playhouse, 824 Main St., Cambria

$22, $17 students

805-927-3877 or www.pewterploughplayhouse.org

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