BWW Review: MacTheatre Shines in MOON OVER BUFFALO
Performers love nothing more than to poke fun of themselves. In the McCallum Fine Arts Academy's production of MOON OVER BUFFALO, director Joshua Denning has assembled this small cast of exceptionally talented teenagers to do just that. I must admit that I found it amusing to see the next generation of young performers playing a family of aging actors to the hilt with all of the fast-paced action and dialogue one would expect from a play-within-a-play concept similar to Noises Off. But make no mistake; the young artists at McCallum are not typical teenagers, but well-trained raw talent that audiences will most certainly hear from in the future.
MOON OVER BUFFALO, a 1995 comic play by Ken Ludwig, bears striking similarities to Ludwig's previous farce, Lend Me A Tenor: set in the pre-1950's Northeast, drinking/cheating male star, justifiably jealous wife, young stage manager desperately trying to keep things from completely falling apart, the impending arrival of an influential savior, non-actors forced to go onstage. And of course this is all laced with the caricatures of overly dramatic, anxiety-ridden performers.
A physically demanding play, MOON OVER BUFFALO relies on a small ensemble cast of eight and revolves around the central storyline of George and Charlotte Hay, a married couple within a dying breed of traveling actors in the 1950's. Though Charlotte is aging, she has dreams of becoming a Hollywood film star, while George is quite satisfied as a stage actor and views live theater as far superior to film. When the curtain goes up, the audience finds themselves in the middle of a cartoonish and overdone performance of Cyrano de Bergerac (a fact that I personally appreciated, since the Academy itself was poking fun at the fact that they had just recently completed a full run of Cyrano: The Musical). After a brief (and impressively executed) fencing scene between husband and wife in the green room, we soon learn that the couple is starring together in rotating performances of Cyrano and Private Lives in a repertory theatre in Buffalo.
As the story begins, we witness the inter-woven storylines of the arrival of their adult daughter, Rosalind, who has brought her "normal" weather-forecasting fiancée to meet the parents, an extremely hard-of-hearing mother-in-law who fabulously twists around misinterpreted information, a pregnant supporting actress (knocked up by George the womanizer), the impending arrival of a famous film director in the midst of family crisis, a family lawyer who wants to run away with the leading lady, and a poor young stage manager who is just trying to keep everything from falling apart before the famous film director arrives.
The role of George, in particular, must be able to deliver a highly physical performance; George engages in a mock fencing match with Charlotte, a wrestling match with Howard, and numerous drunken falls and shenanigans, all the while delivering carefully executed comedic timing. As George, Max Corney is delightful and has a commanding stage presence. It comes as no great surprise that Corney has been nominated for numerous awards throughout Austin. As George's wife, Riley Simpson plays an excellent Charlotte (a role originally played by Carol Burnett, so these are rather big shoes to fill.) Though her dynamics can get stuck on full-forte-yelling a bit too consistently, she's quite a sublime young actor. As Corney and Simpson are both seniors in the theatre program at McCallum, we will likely see much more from them in the near future, as they head off to pursue their careers post-graduation.
Other standout performances include Tristan Tierney as Howard, the lovesick lawyer who is courting Charlotte. There is no doubt that Tierney is a rising star, as he expertly maneuvers his slyly delivered one-liners and interjections. He has a confident, mature stage presence that consistently earns the respect of his audiences. In the role of the anxious stage manager, Paul, Till Simon is an absolute riot, as he brilliantly plays the role as a youthful voice of reason that is trying desperately to get a grip on a hopeless situation. He has such a natural presence on stage that regardless of what's happening in a scene, the eye is consistently drawn to Simon's reaction to the ensuing mayhem. My favorite moment of this production involves Simon and Corney as they desperately try to get a pair of pants on an extremely drunk George...and that's all I'm going to say about that.
As Rosalind, Anna McGuire is thrown on stage as her character attempts to save the reputation of her parents in a doomed performance of Private Lives. This is, of course, the defining moment we've all been waiting for because the lead-up to this scene is quite disastrous. McGuire is hilarious as Roz, as she is determined to pull off this "performance" no matter what, regardless of the ridiculous antics of her father. As the young actress Eileen, Solana Oliver plays George's mistress quite similarly to that of the role of Brooke Ashton from Noises Off; she is lovely, youthful, not very bright and just a bit scheming. Josephine Clarke plays the role of Ethel, Charlotte's nearly-deaf, elderly mother/tech assistant/costumer/ex-actress/monkey wrench to the plot. Clarke is charming, despite the realities of the challenges teens are presented with in the portrayal of an aging character. And finally, Nicholas Heinen plays the role of Howard, the non-actor-fiancée/TV weatherman a bit gangly and youthful. One of the younger performers in the production, Heinen is certainly on the right path within his growth as a comedic actor.
The McCallum Fine Arts Academy's production of MOON OVER BUFFALO is a fast-paced, delightful situation comedy that I highly recommend. Catch these wonderful young rising stars before they head off in pursuit of their careers. (May they meet less anxiety-ridden futures than that of poor George and Charlotte Hay.)
MOON OVER BUFFALO, performs at McCallum Fine Arts Academy at 5600 Sunshine Dr, Austin, TX 78756, now through December 11th. Performances are Thursday Dec 8th at 7pm, Friday Dec 9th at 7pm, Saturday Dec 10th at 7pm, and Sunday, Dec 11th at 2pm. Tickets are $7-$16. For tickets and information, please visit www.mactheatre.com.