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Theater Review: Ludwig Farce Provides Fun Evening At The Little Theatre



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After the smashing success of playwright Ken Ludwig’s first play, Lend Me a Tenor, he was tasked with writing a star vehicle for one of the preeminent comediennes of our time, Carol Burnett. That star vehicle became Moon Over Buffalo, a production of which is now playing at the Town Players of Newtown under the direction of Diana Canova.

That name may sound familiar to audiences. Not only is Canova a Connecticut local whose work includes directing children’s theater in Redding, she also starred as Corinne Tate on the classic television series “Soap.”

Ludwig’s plays have become a mainstay of community theaters across the country. In Buffalo, he retreads many of the themes and tropes he explored in Tenor, from the loss of celebrity and jealous misunderstandings to the progressively drunk leading man and the anticipation of a celebrity audience member.

Buffalo tells the backstage tale of married actors George and Charlotte Hay, who have found themselves in Siberia in 1953; or so it seems to them. It’s Buffalo, N.Y., to the rest of us. The two fading stars are touring classic plays in repertory, Cyrano de Bergerac and Private Lives. Throw in a hard-of-hearing mother, a surprise visit from their daughter, a confused weatherman fiancé, and legendary director Frank Capra and hilarity ensues.

Canova’s direction breathes life into this play, which at times can feel a bit creaky. She also does a great job navigating actors swiftly in and out of a series of doors (essential to any farce) that, at times, seems to upstage some of the more fun moments.

Some of the talent navigating those doors include the very funny Gillian Holt. She perfectly embodies the role of the classic stage diva, Charlotte Hay. The acting style required for a farce set in this time period is sometimes a difficult feat to pull off, but Holt nails it. She is straight out of classic comedies such as Bringing Up Baby and others of the era.

Holt is paired up with Henry Wright as George Hay, the star holding on to every last bit of his fame. Wright holds his own against Holt, portraying the dashing star who unknowingly gets progressively drunker as the play goes on, only to crash the stage during a performance of Private Lives dressed in full Cyrano garb. That scenes provides for some of the biggest laughs of the evening.

Cooper Smithers as the befuddled Paul, a member of the acting troupe, is another standout. His physical comedy and energy is a joy to watch on stage.

Playing Paul’s ex, and George and Charlotte’s daughter Roz, is Brianna Bowman, a staple of the local theater scene. She brings a nice grounding reality to the chaos.

As in any farce, the main characters are supported by a hilarious ensemble. Dan Murphy brightfully and sheepishly brings to life Roz’s weatherman fiancé Howard. Familiar Town Players’ face Laurel Lettieri delightfully portrays Ethel, Charlotte’s long suffering and hard of hearing mother. Calista Giroux perfectly plays naïve Eileen, a company member with a secret. Tim Brandt commands the stage as Richard, the Hays’s lawyer.

Overall, the Town Players of Newtown production show offers a fun evening at The Little Theatre.

Performances continue weekends to June 1, including a Thursday evening show on May 30. Visit newtownplayers.org for full details and tickets. The theater is at 18 Orchard Hill Road.

Carol Burnett's vehicle, Ken Ludwig's "Moon Over Buffalo", is a fun face currently in production by Town Players of Newtown under the direction of Diana Canova.
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