In the quaint, unassuming Metro theatre at the base of the Arthur Laing Bridge, the November 1st preview night for Moon Over Buffalo was not the most populous. A 300-seat theatre, the house was barely a third full. However, the comedy happening on stage kept this intimate crowd engaged.
The show began with an overhead announcement welcoming everyone to the Early Bird Theatre in Buffalo, New York, as the crowd was transported to a less than adequate production of Cyrano de Bergerac. Never fear, however: the show was really about showing the audience what happened behind the scenes, moving the actors in the green room to centre stage.
Set in 1953, Moon Over Buffalo tells the story of George (David Wallace) and Charlotte Hays (Michelle Collier), stars of the stage being left behind as the audiences of the world shift their focus to film and television. Their daughter, Rosalind (Devon Busswood), whose name is the first of many allusions Ken Ludwig’s script makes to Shakespeare, has left the stage for a more modern career in advertising. She returns to the tension of her parents’ failing show to announce she is getting married. On the brink of a disastrous split-up caused by George’s alleged indiscretion with a young ingénue (Julie Casselman), they receive word that they might just have one last shot at stardom: Frank Capra is coming to town to see their matinée, and if he likes what he sees, he might cast them in his movie remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel. From there, the plot is easily comparable to that of a Shakespearean comedy, complete with mixed-up identities, entangled romantic mishaps, and a play (or two) within a play.
While most of the acting was sincere to the characters, the physical comedy sometimes broke the reality of the world. Particularly in the first half, slapstick acting took away from the storyline and believability of the characters. Some of the gags, such as ripping George’s pants, and moments between George and Charlotte just seemed incredibly staged and made scenes disjointed.
However, as the show progressed, and possibly as the actors became more comfortable (minor errors can be acquitted to nerves, since this was their first performance in front of an audience), it build up to a hilarious climax that had the small preview audience in stitches. Set in one dressing room with six doors, one of the tightest scenes finished off the first half of the show with a ridiculous set of fast paced entrances and exits, that showed off Mike Mackenzie’s directing skills.
David Wallace was a particularly driving comic force, growing stronger as his character became more intoxicated throughout Act 2. In the midst of all the slapstick and witty one-liners, Devon Busswood managed to keep her scintillating portrayal of Roz sincere and relatable to the audience. The first scene between Roz and her ex-boyfriend Paul (Clifford Upham) perfectly set up the tension and history of their relationship in only a few short lines.
However melodramatic, this amusing show is relatable to anyone involved in theatre and it gives a perfect behind-the-scenes look at theatre and the acting life: the part of the show an audience rarely gets to see. It was a crazy, dramatic rendering, but the sense of the theatre that came across was absolutely genuine. One character explains it “like living in an asylum on the guard’s day off”.
The period costumes and detailed set, complete with old theatre posters on the walls and cheesy green-room style hanging lights, brought the play together and accentuated Ken Ludwig’s humorous, well written script.
All in all, it was an uproarious comedy, a clever dialogue about theatre and film, and a worthwhile play. Catch Moon Over Buffalo at the Metro Theatre until November 30th!
Tickets and more information can be found here.