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Moon Over Buffalo -07/10/1998

By Ken Ludwig.  Cast: Matt Wallace, Tiffany Boeke, Elizabeth Anita Robertson, Emily A. Parks, Danforth Comins, Stacy Freeman, Mike Kuehl, Kevin Asselin.  Director: Robin Gordon.  Costume Designer: James Berton Harris.  Fight Choreographer: Richard Barrows.  Lighting Designer: Thomas V. Korder.  Sound Designer: Jon Schoenoff.  Properties Designer: James A. Guy.

Summerfest '98

In repertory through August 1.  Studio Theater, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Box
office: 333-6280.


Farce isn't easy.

It's so much fun to watch, you figure the actors must be having a good time, too.  But mostly they tell me they're working so hard they don't have time for fun.

I'm guessing that's the case with Ken Ludwig's "Moon Over Buffalo," which features the usual hallmarks of farce -- slamming doors, misunderstandings, frantic pace, and sight gags.  The cast has to keep the pace, hit their marks and their lines, play it larger than life, and make it all seem lighter than air.  Whew.  It's exhausting.

Ludwig, best known for "Lend Me a Tenor" and the book of the musical "Crazy For You," specializes in this sort of thing.

"Moon Over Buffalo" is a backstage farce set in 1953, as George and Charlotte Hay, a pair of aging hams, headline a small company touring "Private Lives" and "Cyrano" through the sticks, in this case, Buffalo.

The group is foundering, eclipsed by TV, when the Hays get word that Hollywood's Frank Capra will attend one of their performances to see if the two of them are right for a swashbuckling film.

It could be their last chance at the big time.  Or it could be a disaster of Biblical proportions.

Too bad the performance Mr. Capra has picked is the same one the company ingenue chooses to ditch, announcing she's pregnant (by George).  And the one their daughter, Rosalind, who wants no part of their theatrics, comes to see, with her square new weatherman fiance in tow. Add in Rosalind's old flame, hard-hearing Grandma Ethel, and a lawyer who keeps asking Charlotte to run away with him, and you have everything set up for fun and games.

"Moon Over Buffalo," directed by Robin Gordon for the Illinois Repertory Theatre's Summerfest '98, is, unfortunately, not on a par with Ludwig's best work.  The first act takes a bit too long setting up the situation, and some of the characters and laughs seem a bit forced.  The thrust staging in Krannert Center's Studio Theater also diminishes the comedy, as the actors have to really run some to get on and off and slam their doors.Still, the second act pays off much better, especially in Scene 2, when the play-within-a-play starts to unwind.  So if you're willing to hang with it, you'll find the Act II laughs and lunacy are worth the wait.

Leading the cast, Tiffany Boeke does excellent work as the grande dame, Charlotte Hay.  Boeke manages to make Charlotte both mature and theatrical, with a sort of young Eve Arden-meets-Maureen-O'Hara look about her.

Matt Wallace is less successful with George Hay's over-the-top character.  This role is a golden opportunity for an actor to be as hammy and flamboyant as he wants, but Wallace never quite gets there.

As their daughter, Rosalind, who finds herself in the middle of their madness one more time, Emily A. Parks is very pretty and graceful.  As the only "normal" member of the family, however, Parks plays it a bit too big.  Fine-tuned just a notch, Parks will be perfect.

Mike Kuehl is strong and charming as Rosalind's Right Man.  As the Wrong one, Danforth Comins turns in a skillful portrayal, offering a nice take on a Ralph Bellamy classic.

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