‘Moon over Buffalo’ is a great farce

The Bartlett Theatre in Rockefeller Arts Center will be full of talent and fun next weekend (Oct. 24-26). Treat yourself to a fine production of Ken Ludwig’s “Moon over Buffalo.”

It’s Buffalo in 1953, and a troupe of not overly talented actors is appearing in repertory performances of two classic plays: “Cyrano De Bergerac” and “Private Lives.”

Cyrano is always good for a laugh, in particular from the title character’s amazing seven-inch beezer of a false nose. It’s also a romantic play (remember Steve Martin in the role? Jose Ferrer?) but here it’s laughs we’re going for, and getting. The false nose shows up again several times, not always as a nose.

The star of this minor constellation is George, played to the hilt by BJ Hylton. He makes a great drunk. His wife, Charlotte (Allie Miron, who has superb comic timing) plays the female lead, so she’s Roxanne in Cyrano. Their daughter, Rosalind (Jaclyn E. Rahmlow), will play a lead in the Private Lives scene. She looks great in a bright red dress, but she’s not all that nuts about the acting profession.

The harried stage manager of this zoo is Paul, played by Nick Stevens. He’s the straight man here, the voice of sanity, so you know he’ll get knocked about some, and he does. Ethel (Allison K. McCarthy) starts some of the mistaken identities and mishaps with her comic deafness. Toss in a blonde (Eileen, played by Morgan Troia) pregnant by the lead actor; Howard (Kevin Stevens). Rosalind’s fiance; and Richard (Alex J. Grayson) who has the hots for Charlotte. Mix, shake vigorously, and pour.

The best farces don’t start right out going for laughs, and “Moon over Buffalo” is one such. Before we can laugh at misadventures and crazy physical gags we need to establish a baseline of relative calm. One thing farces cannot do without is doors – the more the better. There are four here, not counting house entrances, and a fifth behind a curtain on the balcony. Opening and slamming, entering and exiting, running into the wrong people in the right places – that’s what doors are for. All credit to the techies who built and lit the fine set.

Director Ted Sharon keeps his bright and funny actors on a fast pace, increasing as the play proceeds. One door opens to show General George S. Patton (sorta) thoroughly trussed up in rope, then slams on him because his presence is inconveniently interrupting the mixed up scene being played above. (George, the lead actor, shows up in his Cyrano costume in the middle of an elegant Noel Coward play.) Wouldn’t it be funny if the tied-up General joined the melee upstairs? It would, he does, and it is.

Well of course it all works out just fine. Farce is, after all, a subtype of comedy; and the main job of comedy (after getting lots of laughs) is to get the right people into bed with one another. (There’s a scene on a couch which is the exact reverse of that, but it passes.)

Thanks to the SUNY Fredonia Federal Credit Union for helping to make this fun possible.

Mac Nelson is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus at Fredonia State University.