Monday, September 09, 2013

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Ushers In Its 40th Season With A Rollicking New England Premiere Production of "One Man, Two Guvnors"

As I anticipated the Press Opening and New England  Premiere for "One Man, Two Guvnors," the play that opens the 40th season for The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, I had no idea what to expect.  I knew that the play had been a huge hit in London and on Broadway, playing to critical acclaim and to enthusiastic audiences.  But that was all I knew.  Two hours and many belly laughs later, I knew a great deal more.  The play, the work of British playwright Richard Bean, is a wondrous mash-up farce born from the tradition of Italian commedia dell'arte meeting English Music Hall tradition and slapstick comedy in the style of "Noises Off."  

Under the direction of Lyric Artistic Director, Spiro Veloudos, the cast kept the audience laughing and guessing through the two acts that were often interspersed with classic Music Hall tunes.  This play does not just break the proverbial fourth wall - it demolishes it.  Audience participation is de rigeur throughout the play.  Although set in England's Brighton, a few clever twists in the script make it appropriate to Boston's own Brighton/Allston neighborhood.

Matthew Whiton's scenic design cleverly solved several logistical problems of staging a play written with six set changes in the intimate performance space that is the Lyric.  Tyler Kinney's costumes drew from the classic commedia dell'arte stock costumes as well as the 1963 British styles of Carnaby Street and Seville Row.  Catherine Stornetta as Music Director not only leads from the keyboard a talented group of musicians, but she also arranged much of the music that holds together the disparate parts of the play.

The cast?  Delightful and talented.  I must begin with the "One Man" - Francis Henshall played by the very gifted Neil A. Casey.  His "fight scene" is worth the price of admission.  With superb comic timing, he plays the modern Harlequin, using his faulty intellectual faculties to create innumerable scrapes for himself that he must fight his way out of.  Trying to simultaneously serve two masters in order to earn enough money to feed his voracious appetite, he stumbles from one pratfall to another.

McCaela Donovan (who seems to be everywhere these days on all the important Boston stages) plays Rachel Crabbe, one of Henshall's Two Guvnors.  She spends much of the play disguised as her recently deceased twin brother, and is delightful, as always.

The other Guvnor is Stanley Stubbers, played very ably by Dan Whelton.  Stubbers is in love with Rachel, but he has killed her twin brother and is in hiding from  the law.  He is a terrific foil for Henshall and his shenanigans, which lead to the mistaken impression by Crabbe and Stubbers that the other is dead.  The confusions that ensue are in the best spirit of Shakespeare's comedies.

John Davin plays a superannuated and deaf factotum whose pratfalls are one of this shows delights.  Aimee Doherty plays Dolly, the bookkeeper and would-be femme fatale who is about to be whisked off to Majorca by Henshall.  The cast is rounded out with fine performances by Larry Coen as Harry Dangle the Solicitor, James Blasko as Policeman, Tiffany Chen as the dim-witted Pauline Clench, Harry McEnemy V as Gareth, Davron S. Monroe as Lloyd Boateng, Chuong Pham as Barman, Dale Place as gangster Charlie "The Duck" Clench, and Alejandro Simoes as the histrionic Alan.

Joining Ms. Stornetta in the elevated orchestra "pit" are Eric Gaudette on guitar and banjo, Daniel McDowell on bass and Brian Flan on percussion.

At one point, I turned to the critic sitting stoically next to me and whispered "What do you think?"  He responded, "Well, it's not exactly my cup of tea, but you are obviously enjoying it, and your laughter is helping me to enjoy it, as well."

There you have it - playwright, director, musicians, actors, technicians and audience members and even the odd critic all conspiring together to make a memorable and enjoyable evening at the theater.

"One Man, Two Guvnors" will play through October 12.

For tickets, and to see the upcoming shows for the rest of the Lyric's 40th Anniversary Season, click on the link below.

Lyric Stage Website



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