BWW Review: ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS Serves Big Laughs in Newly Renovated Alley Theatre
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS enthralls the crowd as it opens the 2015-2016 season at the newly renovated Alley Theatre. The modern English comedy by Richard Bean, set in 1963 with music by Grant Olding, was adapted from the 1743 Commedia dell'arte play by Carlo Goldoni. The show is directed by Gregory Boyd and runs through November 1, 2015.
I was pleased to see many familiar faces last Wednesday at the Alley Theatre's performance of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS. It helped set the tone for the comedic and interactive performance that seemed to ask us to leave any egos at the door, relax, and sit back for a night of farcical storytelling and crass side-splitting humor. The show absolutely delivered.
The story is framed under bright lighting, within a proscenium adorned with sensational newspaper headlines and images, and the air was filled with Grant Holding's music performed by The Craze. Flawless southern guitar licks, booming notes from the upright bass, along with acoustic guitar rhythm and washboard clacking moved the audience into this comical world of farcical characters. The plot is complex, but not convoluted. There are a myriad of interconnected relationships, and stakes are raised when Rachel Crabbe (Emily Trask) appears disguised as her dead twin brother Roscoe, just as Alan Dangle (Jay Sullivan) and Pauline Clench (Melissa Pritchett) close in on tying the knot.
Alan Dangle is an actor who has a knack for dramatizing everyday life and speaking as if he's on stage giving a soliloquy. Sullivan was notably funny with physical shticks such as accidentally launching a knife off stage, throwing his leather jacket way over and past his shoulder, and also his very memorable soliloquy explaining how a bus is a metaphor for destiny, life, and love. Pauline Clench (Melissa Pritchett) is not very bright, and has the apt catch phrase "I don't understand!"
Jeffrey Bean stars as Francis Henshall. He's the harlequin, dressed in a bright orange suit, and proves to be a scoundrel with a heart. Henshall is caught between serving two different guvnors, trying to keep each one from finding out about the other. His situation is exacerbated by his insatiable appetite, propensity to get confused, and reluctance to do any work himself. Bean was in top form with his physical comedy in ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS. The night was full of laughter, and how could it not? Scenes like Francis arguing with and literally fighting himself and later waiting on both guvnors at the same time served up big laughs all night long. The aforementioned scene gave Bean ample opportunity to shine: he had some great interactions with the stand-out Steven Epp who played the 87 year-old Alfie, he had an opportunity to interact with audience members, he had comical entrances and exits between the kitchen and two dining rooms, and he finally got his fill of food.
Henshall explains to the audience, as the show transitioned into the second half, his objective in Act I was to satiate his appetite, but his objective in Act II is to win the heart of Dolly (Elizabeth Bunch). Henshall frequently addresses the audience and even pulls some lucky (or unlucky) audience members onto the stage to participate in the story. These devices didn't pull me out of the story, but instead pulled me further in and made me care much more about what happened to Francis.
Steven Epp was riveting in the role of Alfie. He tells everyone he's 86, but is consistently reminded by the cast in unison that "You're 87!" When his pacemaker is turned up, it gets him moving as if he'd had a shot of adrenaline, which results in great physical comedy from the Minneapolis native. Epp is best known for his work with The Moving Company, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and for his work as a playwright. It was a joy to see him back on stage with the Alley company players.
Some of the other notable performances include Todd Waite as Stanley Stubbers, David Rainey as Lloyd Boateng, and Chris Hutchison as part of the Ensemble. Waite has the uncanny ability to take a seemingly straightforward role and add layers of complexity to it. His portrayal of Stanley was no different, and he effectively used timing, silence, and physicality to garner laughs while revealing Stanley's past. Rainey was on point as always, and my only qualm is that I would have liked to see him on stage for more of the show. Hutchison was memorable as part of the Ensemble, and again, I would have liked to see more of him that night.
I can honestly say I don't remember the last time I laughed that hard on a night out at the theatre. The piece aligns with the types of shows that the Alley generally produces. It's a crowd pleaser and a great way to open this milestone season. I did notice that some patrons were not laughing at some of the funniest moments. Perhaps they weren't able to leave their egos at the door or maybe they had a hard time with the slapstick and crass humor. However, for many us, the jokes landed, and we could not stop laughing. Do yourself a favor, and see this show before it closes.
The cast of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS features Resident Company members Jeffrey Bean, James Black, Elizabeth Bunch, Paul Hope, Chris Hutchison, Melissa Pritchett, David Rainey, Jay Sullivan, Emily Trask and Todd Waite. Also joining the cast are Steven Epp, John Feltch, Elspeth Brodie, Joseph Palmore and Trace Pool.
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS features a live band composed of Houston musicians Ryan Chavez, Aaron Echegaray, Chris Goodwin and Mike Whitebread.
The creative team includes Scenic Designer Hugh Landwehr, Costume Designer David C. Woolard, Lighting Designer David Lander, Sound Designer Lindsay Jones and Physical Comedy Direction by Christopher Bayes.