COMING ATTRACTIONS 'Moon Over Buffalo' shines over Playhouse
The play has caught community interest, drawing a crowd to auditions.
By L. CROW
"Moon Over Buffalo," a farce about life in the theater in the early '50s, hit the stage Oct. 1, 1995. It brought Carol Burnett back to Broadway, starring with Phillip Bosco, as Charlotte and George Hay, two touring repertory theater has-beens, and showcased their comical attempts to make a comeback.
Now, the Youngstown Playhouse brings back veteran actor and director Bob Gray to direct the comedy. This is the fourth of five productions marking the "Renaissance Season" of the Playhouse.
Gray says he is delighted to be back, directing this humorous comedy. Apparently, the community is excited, with 45-50 people auditioning for the eight characters in the play. And what characters!
George, a drunk who is best described as a megalomaniac -- a person with a mania for grandiose performance, and Charlotte inappropriately cast themselves as young lovers in "Private Lives" and "Cyrano de Bergerac," whose huge cast has been reduced to five. They have lost their chance at starring in a movie, "The Scarlet Pimpernel," directed by Frank Capra, who instead cast Ronald Coleman and Greer Garson.
Coleman breaks both his legs, so Capra unexpectedly flies out to see George and Charlotte perform, but George is missing. Meanwhile, the company doesn't know if it is playing "Cyrano de Bergerac" or "Private Lives."
Add to that a near-deaf mother-in-law who is also the theater manager, a few other dysfunctional characters, slapstick humor, and a couple of love triangles, and the result is comic confusion.
One interesting feature about this play is the sword fight scene, choreographed by YSU student Andrew Kim. He has a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do, and took a course in stage combat offered by theater professor Dr. Dennis Henneman.
"The class offers training in movement and balance," says Kim. "We learn unarmed combat, rapier and dagger. Most of this stays with you, like learning how to fall without hurting yourself."
The play was written by Ken Ludwig, author of "Lend Me a Tenor" and a number of other plays. "Moon Over Buffalo" was written to take a humorous look at the end of an era. From the 1700s until about 1929, when the Great Depression hit, touring repertory theater was a viable livelihood for actors. However, by 1953, the era of touring had all but ended. Television and movies had replaced classical repertory and comedy. Road shows now consist mostly of American musicals and a few specials from Broadway.
Bob Gray, who acted and directed at the Playhouse from 1974-1988, recalls some of its history: "Back then, we did eight shows a year, plus children's theater. A hallmark of this theater has been that there was always money and a strong need for hiring professional directors. I believe that the actors can learn more from doing a show and by audience reaction than by any textbook or class."
Gray directed more than 40 productions in his 14-year stay, including "The Taming of the Shrew" and "Dracula," and also appeared on stage.
"We believe in paying pro directors, where other community theaters hire locals," said Playhouse executive director Bentley Lenhoff. "Their expertise can have a great impact on actors, honing and improving their skills."
Gray and Lenhoff go way back, about 50 years, to Albion College in Michigan, appearing together on stage, then later at the Petoskey Playhouse in Michigan, which Lenhoff founded in 1954. Lenhoff's reappearance at the Playhouse late last year has resulted in a jump in season ticket sales from 25 to nearly 1500.