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Theater review: ‘Moon Over Buffalo’ at Open Fist Theatre

March 1, 2012 |  5:00 pm

MOON OVER BUFFALOOpen Fist Theatre Company continues to flaunt its retro screwball comedy chops with Ken Ludwig’s “Moon Over Buffalo,” a follow-up to last year’s hit revival of “Room Service.” Sporting much of the same manic energy as its predecessor (not to mention several cast and crew holdovers), the production is helmed once again by Bjørn Johnson, whose facility with orchestrating whirlwind slamming doors, mistaken identities, arch innuendos and other tropes of backstage farce is once again apparent. B.H. Barry’s fight choreography adds stylized panache.

Set in 1953 Buffalo, Ludwig’s showbiz satire depicts the behind-the-scenes unraveling of a matinee performance by a touring repertory company run by fading stage veterans George (David Ross Paterson) and Charlotte (Wendy Phillips), whose marriage is on the rocks. The ragtag troupe grapples with keeping Charlotte from running off with the family lawyer (Johnson), sobering up George from his despairing bender, finding a replacement for the trusting ingénue (Laetitia Leon) he’s knocked up, and a career-reviving film opportunity hanging in the balance with the news that Frank Capra is in the audience. Their inability to figure out whether they’re performing “Cyrano” or “Private Lives” results in a disastrously loopy mash-up of the two plays.

Besides wringing ample hilarity from the breezy plot, Johnson’s staging manages a bit of substance. Visiting daughter Rosalind (Katie Costick) radiates the dawning Eisenhower era’s naive complacency—having ditched the floorboards for an advertising career and engagement to a nerdy TV weatherman (John Bobek)—before realizing her heart belongs to the theater and her true leading man, Paul (Derek Manson).

Still, there are only so many depths to plumb in “Moon Over Buffalo,” a play with much less at stake than “Room Service.” Specifically, it lacks the latter’s underlying Depression-era desperation—here, the scams, however amusing, are driven purely by a need to feed egos rather than bellies.

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“Moon Over Buffalo,” Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 18. $25. (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

Photo: Wendy Phillips, David Ross Paterson and John Bobek. Credit: Maia Rosenfeld

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