Farce plays especially well in summer, when we’re happy to sit in a cool dark theater and turn off our minds for a few hours. That’s what People’s Light & Theatre Company delivers with Ken Ludwig’s 1995 Moon Over Buffalo, a valentine to theater set backstage in a roadhouse in Buffalo (“Scranton without the charm”).
The curtain opens on a Cyrano rehearsal behind a scrim, so we only see the actors in shadow. George (David Ingram) cajoles his lethargic company to cheer the title character. The scrim then parts to show us Yoshinori Tanokura’s unglamorous green room — where actors gather before going onstage — with five doors: a set made for farce.
Ingram and Mary Elizabeth Scallen as wife Charlotte are the Hays, an old-school acting duo reduced in 1953 to touring Cyrano and Noel Coward’s Private Lives in repertory through the hinterlands. They’re in love with the theater and each other, but bitter that Frank Capra rejected them for leading film roles. George hides that their little company is on the brink of financial ruin, dismissing Charlotte’s worries as “menopausal hallucinations.”
Their daughter Rosalind (Julianna Zinkel) left her parents’ theater life for “something that doesn’t drive me crazy all the time” and weatherman fiancé Howard (Christopher Patrick Mullen) — but could she actually be in Buffalo to see the Hays’s right-hand man Paul (Kevin Bergen), her former boyfriend?
Comedy is masterfully generated by their interactions with Charlotte’s mother, Ethel (Marcia Saunders), who uses her hearing aid selectively ; ingénue Eileen (Tabitha Allen), who’s gaga for George; and lawyer Richard (Peter DeLaurier), who flies from New York City to sweep Charlotte away from their vagabond life.
Prolific Ludwig, also represented at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s The Three Musketeers, expertly mixes mistaken identities, misheard directives, forbidden romances, and a splash of alcohol with Cyrano swashbuckling and Private Lives drollness to create farcical mayhem. Anything that could go wrong does, smartly staged by director Pete Pryor and acted in fine style by People’s Light’s veteran cast, dressed with authenticity by Marla Jurglanis.
While the characters’ foibles drive the comedy, Pryor and cast accentuate the script’s wisdom and witticisms about theater, sometimes directly to the audience. After an incredible drunken romp in Act II, which crescendos with George hilariously crashing a performance of Private Lives as Cyrano, he sobers up to inspire Charlotte to stay:
“You’re an actress, Charlotte. It’s in your veins. If you were caught in the spotlight of a runaway train, you’d break into a time step. It’s a gift to be that reckless and insane. There are people out there in the darkness who are living through you.”
Zigzagging from Mullen’s chaise longue pratfalls, Allen’s crying jags, Zinkel and Bergen’s fruitless efforts to deny their mutual affection, Saunders’s selective hearing and verbal jousting with George, DeLaurier’s understated quips, and Ingram and Scallen’s epic battles, the play bursts with dynamic fun. The cast’s perfectly timed, exuberant antics celebrate a love for theater that makes Moon Over Buffalo particularly delightful.