Miners Alley nails 2022 season opener with Ken Ludwig’s farce Moon Over Buffalo
Moon Over Buffalo, Ken Ludwig’s irreverent, goofball farce about the backstage shenanigans of an acting troupe in the 1950s, still delights despite the content being a tad dated and the theater troupe concept showing some wear. Perhaps it’s because it feels like the actors in this new Miners Alley production are having just as much fun as the audience.
The non-stop, overwhelming maelstrom of clever wordplay, mistaken identities, slamming doors, pratfalls and the all-round chaos of the play almost overpower the nearly flawless execution of the MAP production. This type of farce not only requires a great deal of demanding physical work, but also impeccable comedic timing and pace — a difficult combination to achieve.
Labor of Love
Hat’s off to director Rory Pierce, who nailed it on his directorial debut on the main stage at MAP. Pierce has been a mainstay in the Golden-area theater scene, writing and directing several Miners Alley Children’s Theatre plays, as well as being a fixture at Heritage Square Music Hall and the Mines Little Theatre at Colorado School of Mines.
He’s aided by some experienced local talent from local actors Larry Cahn (George Hay), who is making his acting debut at MAP, and Abby Apple Boes (Charlotte Hay), with her third show in Golden. Their on-stage chemistry sparks from the moment they first appear on stage together and continues smoldering until the very end.
Both actors make the physical portion of their roles seem effortless, particularly Cahn, whose extremely demanding role kicks up a notch when George starts hitting the bottle in the second act. Playing an overbearing, inebriated actor requires some restraint to prevent it from going over the top, and Cahn pulls off like the pro he is.
Some of the best scenes occur when George and Charlotte are going at it, whether in a backstage sword fight, or when Charlotte berates her husband by slapping him about with her rolled-up copy of Variety.
Cahn and Apple Boes were part of the original Moon Over Buffalo cast at MAP in March 2020 and were in final rehearsals when the the world shut down and postponement turned into a cancellation that lasted nearly two years. As Pierce summed it up in his director notes: the play turned into a “labor of love and a lesson in humility” that has finally come to fruition. And it appears that they put all of that extra time to good use.
Misunderstandings & mistaken identities
The play centers on fading B-actors George and Charlotte Hay, who are languishing in Buffalo, New York, playing Private Lives and Cyrano De Bergerac in rep with five other actors. On the brink of a split-up caused by George’s dalliance with a young ingénue, George learns that they might just have one last shot at stardom: Frank Capra is coming to town to see their matinee. If he likes what he sees, he might cast them in his movie remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Charlotte, however, doesn’t believe this good news from her husband and declares her intent to run off with their mutual lawyer, causing George to fall into a boozy despair. What follows is a series of misunderstandings, unrequited love, requited love and mistaken identities — abetted by an unannounced visit from their daughter and her hapless fiancé. Not to mention that, thanks to Charlotte’s deaf mother, who hates every bone in George’s body, no one is certain which play they’re actually performing.
Moon Over Buffalo premiered on Broadway in 1995. The role of Charlotte was specifically written by Ludwig for actor/comedian Carol Burnett, who Apple Boes seemed to be channeling during her performance with her overly dramatic speech and exaggerated diva gestures.
In addition to Apple Boes and Cahn, four other members of the original cast returned for the 2022 run, including Amy E. Gray (Rosalind), Jason Maxwell (Howard), Emily Gomes (Eileen) and Tim Fishbaugh (Richard Maynard). Edith Weiss joined this season’s production as Ethel and Chris Berghoff as Paul.
As with any farce, there are multiple subplots swirling around the green room in Buffalo. One centers around straight-man Howard, Rosalind’s fiancé. Maxwell’s guileless portrayal of him is perfect as he’s constantly shoved in and out of doors with little recognition or welcome.
Another subplot revolves around the tension between the Hays’ daughter, Rosalind, who used to be part of the acting troupe, and her former beau and actor, Paul. He is obviously still smitten with Rosalind and is blissfully unaware that she’s about to introduce her new fiancé to her parents – if things ever calm down.
Unfortunately, the chemistry between the two is flat so the subplot languishes until late in the second act, when the uptight Rosalind has to return to the stage due to the departure of Eileen following her father’s affair. On stage she desperately bends and twists her lines — and herself — to cover her father’s absence and outlandish drunken behavior. Gray absolutely shines during this campy scene and gives an old routine fresh life as she squirms and agonizes to distract from her father’s inebriated antics.
Berghoff plays an energized and eager Paul who rushes through one door to another throughout the production. Unfortunately, this gives little time to build up his seemingly unrequited feelings for Rosalind, but Berghoff’s earnestness and enthusiasm help make up for it.
Although her on-stage scenes are limited, Gomes gives a youthful exuberance to the role of Eileen as she provides set-ups for the others between her entrances and exits. Fishbaugh, who plays the grounded lawyer, Maynard, appears almost as an after-thought as he meanders onto the stage and seems to find himself slightly startled to be there.
But the overall scene-stealer has to be the droll, dead-pan Ethel, skillfully played by Weiss. Although Grandma is hard of hearing, she doesn’t miss a trick. Weiss’ measured delivery sets a needed baseline for the production as she steadfastly plods through the chaos calmly sewing costumes and making coffee. (By the way, she’s also responsible for inadvertently spiking the coffee George drank while trying to sober up for the matinee.)
A simple set
Where there is a farce, there is a door slamming – multiple doors slamming. And even on the small stage at MAP, they managed to squeeze in four doors. I’m still a little unsure what type of rabbit warren lies behind them because characters seemed to enter and exit willy nilly – which just adds to the chaos of never knowing who will show up where.
The set design by Peggy Morgan Stenmark captures the backstage of an older theater with a minimalistic set that left plenty of room for grandiose Shakespeare-worthy dialogs, dramatic sword play and drunken stumbles. The simple use of a painted backdrop to change center stage from backstage to the front of the theater was simplistic but effective.
Costuming, by Steffani Day, was also spot-on and culminated with spectacular attire for the ill-fated matinee of Private Lives.
Despite its hectic pace, Moon Over Buffalo is an easy and fun show to watch. The performances are top-notch, the directing well-orchestrated and we’re all in on the jokes. We just won’t have the bruises to prove it.