The action is frenetic, the antics are hilarious, and the ensemble sparkles in the laugh-out-loud “Moon Over Buffalo,” now tickling funny bones as Insight Theatre Company’s midseason show.
There are no people like show people, at least that’s what most people involved in theater think. And playwright Ken Ludwig must, too, because two of his most successful farces involve artists’ shenanigans.
Recycling his template for the uproarious “Lend Me a Tenor,” Ludwig sets “Moon Over Buffalo” backstage at a two-bit regional theater in that center of culture, Buffalo, N.Y.
In June of 1953, the company is presenting “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Private Lives” in repertory, and we meet the players and those behind the scenes. They are a colorful, eccentric bunch, and let’s just say wackiness ensues. Drama in a drama group, go figure.
Reminiscent of vintage screwball comedies, the plot is a madcap series of love triangles, mistaken identities, and theatrical mishaps. Leading the loonies is the versatile Alan Knoll, who started off the summer playing a eunuch in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” and is now flopping around Margery and Peter Spack’s marvelously messy set as veteran actor George Hay, a vain scoundrel who is a legend in his own mind. Knoll is one hickory-smooked ham as the master thespian.
George’s latest infidelity is with a young ingenue Eileen (Kara Overlein), who tells George’s fed-up wife Charlotte (Jenni Ryan). She is obviously upset, but their lawyer-manager Richard (Eric Dean White) professes his love for her, and it gets complicated. Meanwhile, their daughter Rosalind (Sam Auch) comes home to introduce her TV weatherman fiance Howard (Will Bonfiglio) to her parents, who are by now too wrapped up in their problems. Rosalind’s ex, Paul (Pete Winfrey), still loves her, and it gets complicated.
Waltzing in and out like a Tim Conway character on “The Carol Burnett Show” is Tommy Nolan as Ethel, Charlotte’s hard-of-hearing mother and Rosalind’s grandmother.
Things really get complicated when news that a legendary Hollywood director is coming to the matinee to see George as a possible replacement for his injured star Ronald Colman. But George has drowned his sorrows in a bottle of booze. Knoll excels in slapstick as the inebriated actor who must sober up before treading the boards, which is easier said than done.
Under Edward Coffield’s direction, the timing is crisp, and the cast frantically races in and out of multiple doors, a tactic used effectively in Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” and the British farce masterpiece “Noises Off!”
I laughed from start to finish, impressed by the enthusiasm and the physicality of the players, who demonstrated such flair for the material. Pete Winfrey and Will Bonfiglio surprised me by their comic sensibilities, as I had only seen them be serious in previous productions.
The actors weren’t wearing microphones the night I attended, but with sound issues, that should be fixed this weekend and next.
For a rip-roaring good time, “Moon Over Buffalo” is a delightful way to spend an evening.
At a glance
What: “Moon Over Buffalo”
Who: Insight Theatre Company
When: Thursday-Sunday, through Aug. 9
Where: Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, 530 E. Lockwood, St. Louis
Tickets: 314-556-1293; www.insighttheatrecompany.com