‘Moon Over Buffalo’ never builds steam

Director Sarah O’Connell makes a serious error in judgment early in Las Vegas Little Theatre’s “Moon Over Buffalo” from which the show never recovers.

Ken Ludwig’s farce explores the backstage chaos that inflicts a third-rate touring troupe in 1953 Buffalo. If you’ve seen the author’s “Lend Me a Tenor,” you know his style. Mistaken identities. Breathless pacing. Lots of slamming doors. Ludwig knows how to build simple plots into logical, chaotic climaxes. There’s not much meat on his scripts, but, if you’re in the right mood, they nearly force you to laugh.

The trouble here is that O’Connell doesn’t allow the comedy to build steam. She plays the action at fever pitch from start to finish so that we never find an “in” to the story. The opening throws us into a rehearsal of “Cyrano de Bergerac.” The acting is supposed to be mediocre, but O’Connell exaggerates the incompetence of the characters so grotesquely that they become uninterestingly stupid. Curiously, when the script takes us backstage into the performers’ private lives, they act just as over-the-top as when they are onstage. There’s no separation between the two worlds.

Had O’Connell slowed down the first-half and allowed a reality base to be created, then the second-half might have been able to explode into the stratosphere, where farce belongs. By trying to be hysterically funny too soon, she shortchanges the play of humanity and humor.

Most of the nine-member cast have moments of hilarity. Their charm is sometimes the only thing keeping the evening afloat. But too often, they carry on as if they’re more eager to get the audience to see how loony they are than in creating a breathing character.

The elegant Gloria Hoffman, however, is surprisingly three dimensional as a hard-of-hearing, semi-senile old woman. Steve McMillan brings a likable authority to the role of an attorney. Rich Benites, as a young company manager trying to fight his love for the boss’ daughter, moves well, and his powerful presence suggests that with the right directors, he could learn to be an actor of depth.

Axis deBruyn’s light design adds an exciting theatricality to the plays-within-the-play and offers a sharp change in mood for the backstage scenes. He provides the contrasts that O’Connell’s work sadly lacks.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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