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Towne Players of Garner artistic director Beth Honeycutt’s briskly paced production of Ken Ludwig’s uproarious backstage comedy, Moon Over Buffalo, kept the audience roaring throughout the Saturday-matinee performance. Honeycutt and Greg Flowers were simply delightful as Charlotte and George Hay, a couple of has-been actors condemned to tour the vast theatrical wasteland, performing Noel Coward’s Private Lives and Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in rep.
When the curtain rises, it is 1953 in Eisenhower’s America. Watching television is fast replacing attending live theater as one of the nation’s favorite leisure-time activities.
George and Charlotte Hay are a poor man’s version of the incomparable real-life acting couple of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine. George is a handsome middle-aged ham actor, with a drinking problem and a wayward eye. His latest victim is Eileen (Anna Jenkins), the company ingénue whose roles will have to be recast once her unplanned pregnancy begins to show.
Charlotte is a lovely middle-aged actress, who still insists on playing younger women’s roles. But Charlotte is beginning to wonder if there is more to life than perpetual touring with a drunken, philandering husband and a handful of faithful retainers.
Beth Honeycutt expertly captures Charlotte’s increasing ambivalence about George, and she amply demonstrates the admirable poise and dignity that gets Charlotte through a hundred daily disasters with George. Charlotte may insist on playing younger than her years onstage, but she is a realist about her offstage relationships. Honeycutt also subordinates her own acting ego, and becomes the perfect straight woman for Greg Flowers’ outrageous drunken antics as George.
Director Beth Honeycutt helps her co-star Greg Flowers garner the lion’s share of the laughs by exploiting to the hilt the slapstick possibilities of his role. Thus, Flowers’ larger-than-life performance as George Hay accents the old ham’s towering ego in matters theatrical and romantic and his rubbery-legged pratfalls while under the influence of strong drink. Careening about the stage on unsteady pins, Flowers makes the most of this moment in the spotlight and gives his finest comic performance to date.
Maggie Cochran is amusing as the Hays’ prodigal daughter, Rosalind, who has rejoined the company temporarily, so she can introduce her fiancé Howard (Joshua Hamilton) to her parents. Hamilton is funny in his fish-out-of-water role as a TV weatherman trying to please his prospective in-laws, but Michael Armstrong is a bit too frantic as Rosalind’s former fiancé Paul.
Ethel Webster is a pip as Charlotte Hay’s irascible nearly deaf mother Ethel, a former actress who strongly and openly disapproves of her profligate son-in-law while serving as a jill-of-all-trades to the troupe. Anna Jenkins contributes a nice cameo as the pregnant and increasingly distraught Eileen; Scott Honeycutt has some funny moments as Richard, the family lawyer who not so secretly carries a torch for Charlotte; and Holmes Morrison, Rob Smith, and Frances Stanley add some laughs in walk-on roles.
Director Beth Honeycutt and technical director Scott Honeycutt, who double as set designers for the show, create the most realistic and detailed Towne Players set to date; and the costumes include a handsome array of period fashions, with one glaring exception. Why does the uniform worn by a character to play legendary World War II U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton sport a single stripe on its right sleeve? Has old Blood and Guts been demoted?
All in all, this Towne Players presentation of Moon Over Buffalo is not only local community theater at its finest. It is a star-making turn for Greg Flowers. There is not enough mustard — or a big enough bun — to hold ham actor such as George Hay, as played by Greg Flowers.
The Towne Players of Garner present Moon Over Buffalo Thursday-Saturday, April 28-30, at 8 p.m. in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 W. Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 students and seniors 55+). 919/779-6144. Towne Players of Garner: http://www.towneplayers.org/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=6216.
Moon Over Buffalo, prize-winning playwright Ken Ludwig’s brilliant backstage comedy, is a real laff riot. With Towne Players of Garner artistic director Beth Honeycutt playing the female lead as well as staging the show April 22-30 in The Garner Historic Auditorium, this community-theater production should be one of the highlights of the spring theater season. Her husband, technical director Scott Honeycutt, also will make a rare stage appearance in an important supporting role.
“I read this play a couple of years ago at the urging of my friend, Jack Chapman,” recalls Beth Honeycutt. “[Moon Over Buffalo] is a fun way to say goodbye to the old Garner Historic Auditorium. The day after our show closes, the auditorium shuts down [for] one year for a major renovation. It’s a romp, and our audiences do love a good romp. Plus, it’s about show folk, and I am always amused and amazed by show folk.
Set in 1953 at the old Erlanger Theater in the frigid and much-maligned title city, and directed on Broadway by Tom Moore, Moon Over Buffalo made its Big Apple debut on Oct. 1, 1995 at the Martin Beck Theatre, with veteran character actor Philip Bosco and television comedienne extraordinaire Carol Burnett playing George and Charlotte Hay, a boozy, philandering 1950s version of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine.
At first able to conceal their constant backstage bickering from the audience, Charlotte and George Hay eventually cannot resist lobbing verbal brickbats onstage — much to the confusion of the Buffalo audience and to the delight of the Towne Players patrons who attend the current production. The Broadway premiere of Moon Over Buffalo, which closed on June 30, 1996, after 309 performances, earned 1996 Tony Award® nominations for Bosco and Burnett as Best Actor and Best Actress in a Play.
When asked for a thumbnail description of the show’s complicated plot, Beth Honeycutt responds, “Holy cow, how do you briefly summarize this one? Well, it’s about this acting couple, George and Charlotte Hay (Greg Flowers and Beth Honeycutt), who are touring the country with a second-rate rep company that’s not doing so well in this new age of television (1953).
“The company consists of Ethel (Ethel Webster), Charlotte’s deaf mother; Paul (Michael Armstrong), the ‘schlepper to the stars’; Eileen (Anna Jenkins), George’s one-night-stand who is now pregnant; and Rosalind (Maggie Cochran), the Hays’ daughter who thinks she hates theater and Paul,” Honeycutt explains.
“Complicating issues,” Honeycutt says, “are Howard (Joshua Hamilton), Rosalind’s fiancé and Richard (Scott Honeycutt), the Hays’ lawyer who plans to run away with Charlotte. When Charlotte discovers George’s infidelity, she leaves him on the very day [celebrated real-life movie director] Frank Capra is to come see their matinee to possibly cast the couple in his new movie.”
Beth Honeycutt says, “George drowns his sorrows in a bar; Charlotte returns; coffee gets spiked; Rosalind and Paul fight and kiss; plays get switched; Howard dresses [up] like [legendary U.S. Army Gen. George S.] Patton; [Towne Players mainstays] Holmes Morrison, Frances Stanley, and Rob Smith make cameos as bad actors; and everybody is happy in the end.”
This crackerjack comedy by the author of Lend Me a Tenor (1989) presents considerable creative challenges to director Beth Honeycutt and technical director Scott Honeycutt, who also designed the show’s set, and to costume designer David Serxner.
“The set may be my favorite yet,” admits Beth Honeycutt. “It is the belly of an old theater, with doors leading off to the stage, dressing rooms, and outside. It is all brick and black. It feels very much like the my college theater, Howard Chapel on the campus of Atlantic Christian. It’s old, a bit dirty, but safe and cozy.
“The costumes are designed to reflect the year, 1953 as well as, costumes for the plays the Hays perform,” Honeycutt explains.
“Because Carol Burnett made the show famous,” confesses Beth Honeycutt, “I have worried that people think [Moon Over Buffalo is] a ‘Carol Burnett Show’ skit. It is not. I’m doing Charlotte Hay, not Carol Burnett. Staging has been tough with backstage and onstage scenes. We can’t wait for our new home!”
The Towne Players of Garner present Moon Over Buffalo Friday, April 22, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 23, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Thursday-Saturday, April 28-30, at 8 p.m. in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 W. Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 students and seniors 55+). 919/779-6144. Towne Players of Garner: http://www.towneplayers.org/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=6216.