Review: Moon over Buffalo at Civic Theatre

 

Leave it to Civic to offer perfectly simple shows for our viewing pleasure, made solely for the purpose of good old-fashioned diversion. Yes, art is meant to hold a mirror up to life; but, boy, it’s nice to see a really well produced farce.

Civic is known for producing nigh on professional grade shows — with enough in the way of resources to make stuff look really neat. You might be impressed by the set drawings alone. (I was fortunate enough to see a few; it’s like looking at whimsical blue prints.) Costumes and props were flawless, and Rob Koharchik’s set was particularly beautiful.

His set isn't flashy — it conjures a very plain, somewhat aged space — but one admires the craftsmanship required to achieve such verisimilitude. Genius lies in the details and what is barely noticeable can be enough to truly breathe life into a work. Instead of painting a wall and being done with it, the background was subtly mottled with cracks and mold like one might find in the basement of an old church. Nice job, scenic painters Mike Brown, Chris Cassell and Kelly Ross.

What happens in this humble world is a total farce if there ever was one. Mistaken identities? Check. A hearing impediment? Check. Multiple doors? Check. It's difficult enough just trying to get an actor from one side of the stage to the other, let alone while he's running with his pants down through a litany of obstacles. But Civic’s longtime director Robert J. Sorbera elegantly surmounts this challenge.

It takes a lot of thought and effort required to realize such stupidity. Rising above the well-executed chaos was Jean Childers Arnold as Charlotte, a put upon wife, mother, and aspiring starlet. The other leads were good, but their performances were lacked a certain degree of naturalism.

Now, I’ve enjoyed friendly debates with some very talented people who believe that comedy is derived from the reality of a character; but being the type to be amused by simple things like ducks and farts, I’m an apologist for playing it up for laughs.That being stated, a performer must still live in a character naturally. And while the rest of the cast did a very fine job, it frequently felt as if they were wearing their characters like an ill-fitting article of clothing. Their body language was just a little awkward and the snappy retorts came a fraction of a second behind snappy.

But Arnold maintained the exaggerated qualities necessary for a character who lives in the outlandish world of a farce, all the while coming off as quite real. And it took a lot of energy to outshine her foil, played by Bill Book, who gets to be hilariously drunk through half the show.

Pamela Kingsley as Ethel is another highlight. Though her part is on the small side, she uses it to positively steal every moment she is on stage in the very best of ways. She is old, cranky, and positively adorable. Finally, kudos to Michael J. Lasley for his sound design featuring, bar none, the most appropriate song possible with which to open the show.

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