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Review Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 12, 2005

Review: Schenectady Civic Players turn a weak script into the slappiest of slapsticks

By Matt Cook

SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady Civic Players’ latest production, Moon Over Buffalo, is a comedy about a fictional mediocre theater company stuck in a depressed city in upstate New York.

It could have been a very self-aware move for a real theater company stuck in a depressed city in upstate New York—but, it wasn’t. The Schenectady Civic Players are surprisingly bad at portraying bad actors, crash-landing most jokes, shouting lines as if they get funnier when they get louder, and missing the few subtleties in the not-so-subtle script.

On opening night, last Friday, particularly in the first half, the spectacle of the actors enthusiastically soldiering through the awfulness was more captivating than the plot of the play itself, which almost faded from mind. But, people don’t pay $12 per ticket to see enthusiasm, and so-bad-it’s-good plays better in B movies and syndicated TV than it does on stage.

The Schenectady Civic Players try to turn a weak script by Ken Ludwig into the slappiest of slap-sticks.

Set in 1953, a husband-and-wife team of has-beens, George and Charlotte Hay, played by Sky Vogel and Patt Hoffman, are in Buffalo with their repertory theater company to perform either Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, or Noel Coward’s Private Lives. They learn that film director Frank Capra is coming to that night’s performance, and is considering casting them as emergency replacements in his movie, The Twilight of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Meanwhile—and there are a lot of "meanwhiles" in this play—the Hays’ daughter, Rosalind, played by Brenna Terry, shows up to introduce her parents to her fiancé, Howard, played by Chuck Conroy. Meanwhile, Eileen, played by Jennifer Van Iderstyne, who works for the company in some unspecified way, is pregnant with George’s baby, and stage manager Paul, played by Daniel M. Goldin, is a former flame of Rosalind who still carries a torch for her. Meanwhile, Richard, played by George W. Crowl, a "lawyer to the stars" who keeps the Hays as clients out of pity, is in love with Charlotte and begs her to go away with him.

As they say, whacky hijinks ensue.

Although the play was written in 1996, Ludwig was obviously aiming to evoke something older: the golden age of show business. The script namedrops long-for-gotten actors, like Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, and Esther Williams, which those of us from younger generations have to look up on the Internet Movie Database to see if they really existed. These jokes were stale in 1965.

There is very little to commend in the first act except the scenery. Designed by John A. Roberge, it looks old and cheap, like one would expect backstage in Buffalo, or Schenectady. The five doors on stage are perfectly placed for frantic slamming and running through.

As for the acting, Goldin and Crowl seem to be competing to see who can botch the most jokes, with Goldin winning mostly be-cause his role is larger. Goldin acts like a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and Homer Simpson. A stand-up comic according to his bio, Goldin declares each line like the zany neighbor on a canceled sit-com. It would be tolerable if he had a minor role, but, as his character grows in importance in the play, his dedication to one-dimensionality is perplexing.

By comparison, the other actors are decent, though they all try much too hard to be funny.

There are a few gems in the script, mostly in the second half ("You smell like a distillery." "That’s funny, I haven’t been to a distillery."), but they get tram-pled by the broader jokes, shouted at headache-inducing levels.

As George, Vogel is the best of the actors. Though he spends the entire second half drunk, he de-livers the play’s only touching moment, a desperate monologue of a washed-up actor, complete with Shakespeare quotes. Unfortunately, that, too, is quickly forgotten amid jokes about mistaken identify and hearing impairments.

For example, Charlotte’s mother, Ethel, played by Donna Gould Carsten, who is also the costume mistress, is hard of hearing and thinks Howard is Capra while George thinks Howard is Eileen’s angry brother, a hair-dressing veteran with a gun.

A more talented theater company may have been able to pull all this off, but the Schenectady Civic Players miss the mark by a long shot. Maybe all it would take is a class on comedy for the actors and director Joseph Fava to tone down their delivery and let the jokes tell themselves.

Even for a depressed upstate city, Schenectady should be able to scrape together a more professional production. Otherwise, it’s just feeding into the stereotype on which Moon Over Buffalo is based: that upstate New York is a vast boring wasteland of no talent.

Moon Over Buffalo will be performed by the Schenectady Civic Players on May 12 to 15 at 8 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $10 for students.

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