Trying to follow the plot of One Man, Two Guvnors is a bit like trying to read a novel printed on a Möbius strip. But don't fret. There's something of a storyline, and at some point during all the gut-busting slapstick, it should reveal itself to you.
This broad farce opens with a musical number entitled "The Brighton Line," performed by the majority of the male cast. Shortly afterward it plunges into general zaniness, combining one part Italian commedia dell'arte (based as it is on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni) and one part Benny Hill. Let's count The Monkees is in the mix too, considering the cheerful musical performances of both original tunes and classic British invasion pop. Written by Richard Bean, the original cast version premiered in London's National Theater in 2011 and subsequently ran on Broadway where it was nominated for seven Tony awards.
While most of the actors speak like Brits, the accents employed by gangster Charlie Clench (Bill Simmons) and his daughter Pauline (Chynna Fry) seem straight outta The Sopranos. But verisimilitude couldn't have been a guiding principle in a production where the plot centers on the return of Pauline's dead suitor Roscoe Crabbe, who isn't actually Roscoe but his sister Rachel (Chelsea Anderson) in disguise. In the meantime a would-be actor named Alan (Tyler Ostrander) has been vying for her attention with mangled bits of Shakespearean chatter. (Watching him channel Romeo is like seeing Dan Quayle spell potato.) Into this maelstrom walks one Francis Henshall who manages not only to get hired by Rachel but also by Stanley Stubbers (Michael Hosp) who isn't only Roscoe's killer but Rachel's love interest. Got it?
Henshall, played with verve by Nathan Robbins is as likeable as the lead in a grade school performance of Oliver! Even when he's making lewd remarks, he has the charm of a leprechaun — radiating mischievousness but innocence.
Of course, it's not just Robbins' show. All the performers are at least good in their roles. And this includes comic timing — no small feat for an opening night. And guitarist/singer Neil Cain and drummer Ben Rose (who also plays a very poised Lloyd Boateng) keep a steady beat.
Also deserving special mention is Rob Johansen, who plays both the Latin-spewing lawyer Harry Dangle and the senile waiter Alfie who has to be revived from time to time by his cohorts turning his pacemaker up to 11. Alfie repeatedly wanders into the audience, breaking the fourth wall. And he's not the only one to break it.
At one point, a young audience member — a plant, I suspect— is conscripted to come up on stage and hold a pot of soup and ... I'm not exactly sure. But she also plays her part, as a confused audience member very well. And, well, you might be occasionally confused by this performance but don't worry. Even if you weren't a baby boomer who grew up on flowery hits like the Small Faces' "Itchycoo Park," sung by cast members, you'll probably enjoy this one — if you're not a prude.
Review: One Man, Two Guvnors
When: Through Oct. 18
Where: Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave.
Info: phoenixtheatre.com, 635.7529