BWW Reviews: ROOM SERVICE in Westport
Like most farces, Room Service has slamming doors and mistaken identities, but this fast-paced 1937 play by John Murray and Allen Boretz is built on the strong foundation of memorable characters and plot twists.
In a nutshell, penniless producer Gordon Miller (played by Ben Steinfeld) is looking for a backer for an unlikely hit play, Godspeed, an epic history of the United States as seen through the eyes of a Polish miner. Miller brings the director and cast to a second-class hotel which is managed by his brother-in-law, Joseph Gribble (David Beach). Miller plans to leave the hotel without paying the mounting bill, but he must keep the room and hide everyone until the mysterious backer's representative comes with the funding.
Nothing falls through the cracks in Mark Lamos's expert direction of this play. There is a play on everything in this production, from the name of the hotel and its basement theatre (the White Way) to a tribute to Harpo Marx, who starred in the 1938 movie of the same title. There is even a reference to Ann Miller, who also appeared in the movie. Initially, the poster for Godspeed, onstage in the third act, looks incongruous to the play within the play, but it works because it certainly makes the point that something is definitely askew. These sublime touches of irony are scattered like little gems in this production.
Actually, the play is full of gems, notably in the superb cast. It would be easy to rely on stock characterizations, but every cast member is letter perfect and brings originality to his role. Steinfeld gives a certain likeability to the manipulative ringmaster. Eric Bryant subtly serves up the unsavory traits of his otherwise upstate hick playwright Leo Davis. Jim Bracchitta and Richard Ruiz play Harry Binion and Faker Englund, Miller's hilarious sidekicks as benign Mafia underlings. Michael McCormick's Gregory Wagner, the hotel auditor, evokes images of the cantankerous Mr. Mooney from The Lucy Show. (By the way, Lucille Ball was also in the movie.) David Breach is impeccable as Miller's hapless and hopeless, nearly groveling brother-in-law, Gribble. Zoë Winters is marvelous as Christine Marlowe, the actress who gets the play's investor. Hayley Treider is ideal as the simple, wide-eyed, cute as a button hotel employee and Davis's love interest, Hilda. Peter Von Berg nearly steals the show as the Russian actor/waiter Sasha Smirnoff and the rickety Senator Blake. Donald Corren is a riot as the hotel doctor Dr. Glass, transforming from man in control to victim of other people's merry madness. Frank Vlastnik makes the most of the characters, the Bank Messenger, Simon Jenkins and Timothy Hogworth, each playing each with distinction. Kudos to casting agents Tara Rubin, Eric Woodall and Lindsay Levine for finding them. Overall, the characters in this production of Room Service are so fresh that the audience might be tempted to slap them.
John Arnone created a believable 1930s overly wallpapered room in a hotel that itself is putting on a show. Russell Champa's lighting design complemented the set nicely and Drew Levy's sound design was flawless. Wade Laboissonniere's costumes were just right for the period and for the show within the show. You can't ask for a better show, especially one to end this year's season at the Westport Country Playhouse.