Review by Sharlene Hartman
If Only Patti Lupone Had Been There….
ELLENVILLE, NY (July 15, 2015) – I’d been looking forward to the opening of Moon Over Buffalo, Shadowland Theatre’s most recent offering. I love a good farce but hadn’t seen this one by internationally acclaimed playwright Ken Ludgwig. My husband was also enthused, which is always a good thing. He’d seen it on Broadway with Carol Burnett in 1995, and Shadowland’s did not disappoint. Upon leaving he said, “Those performances more than jarred my memory, I don’t remember laughing as much or being as entertained in 1995 as I was by this talented and charming cast.” Then he said, “and you can quote me.”
The reason I am leading with a quote from my husband is because he had “one of the best times I’ve ever had at Shadowland.” And I on the other hand did not. AND it was no fault of the wonderful production, the fabulous venue or the very talented actors. It was due to being surrounded by a few not so wonderful audience members, people who must have thought they were there to be a percussion section.
There is always excitement in the air and magical energy with an opening night. I expected to be transported into another world, as I‘ve always been at this intimate, fabulous, Hudson Valley professional theatre. But I usually have a lovely, well trained and well-behaved, theatrical audience as my fellow travelers. My “moon” must have been somewhere in the outer limits as I have never had an audience experience like this.
Brendan Burke, Shadowland’s Producing Artistic Director and also the director of Moon Over Buffalo, opened the evening with his usual welcoming speech. However, when he requested the silencing of cell phones and the immediate unwrapping of any candies, he also mentioned the recent “Patti Lupone incident” that happened during her Broadway show a few days before. If you hadn’t heard, she went into the audience and took away a patron’s cell phone. The person had been texting thoughout her performance. She had reached her tolerance level for rudeness, and “a cacophony of noise.”
As Moon Over Buffalo opened, I started to get into it; the rhythm of the play, the cadence of the speech and the 1953 setting. I could tell I was going to love it.
The central characters are an aging pair of married actors, George and Charlotte Hay, played by the always enjoyable Joel Leffert (loved him in The Seafarer) and the petit but powerhouse actress Denny Dillion (formerly of Saturday Night Live.) At one time the duo saw success on Broadway, but after a couple of flops and some time in Hollywood, they are now touring the country, town by town.
They are presently at a repertory theatre in Buffalo New York, alternating performances of Cyrano de Bergerac and Private Lives. They are joined by their daughter, Roz, who has left the theatre for advertising, played by the delightful Susan Slotoroff, Charlotte’s mother Ethel (Carolyn Seiff), who seems to memorize every play her daughter is in, Howard (Paul Caiola), Rosalind’s inept but very funny and sweet fiancé, Paul (Justin Pietropaolo), Roz’s ex fiancé who is still carrying a torch, Eileen (Emily Stokes), an actress, who due to a one night stand with George is now “in a family way,” and Richard (Ray Faiola), the family attorney, who is more than fond of Charlotte.
There is a lot of clever wordplay, double entendres and sexual innuendo, all the things that tickle an audience. But about 10 minuets into the show, the person behind me began to poke the back of my chair, sometimes slightly and sometimes rigorously, especially when they laughed. Then about 20 minutes into the play someone’s cell phone began to ring, it wasn’t really loud but they were also behind me. Then the people behind them began to have a discussion regarding the cell phone that wouldn’t stop. The banging of the back of my chair continued, in spite of the fact that I turned around and said, “Please don’t do that.” And then, just so I’d have a complete list of complaints another person close by started to unwrap some candy. Oh, and then another cell phone rang. I was now very distracted and angry.
I anticipated that the second act would be more comfortable, because the chair bangers came up to me and said they would be more careful. But such was not the case. However, it WAS better, because when I couldn’t take it anymore I got up and found another seat, only to have another person struggle to noisily open a large bag of something. But then it was Per-Fect, no pushing of my chair and no audience noise, other than tons of laughter; just the way I like it.
The play’s plot is built around Frank Capra, the then famous filmmaker. He telephones and announces he’s coming to Buffalo, he’ll be attending the matinee. He tells Charlotte he’s considering George as the replacement for Ronald Coleman, who has broken his leg while filming. Everyone gets extremely excited about this news. However, a number of subplots make the visit by Capra less than smooth. Howard is mistaken for Capra, Roz finds herself hopelessly attracted to her ex fiancé Paul, George is unable to cope with his personal issues and turns to his old friend Mr. Alcohol. And Charlotte is dealing with all of this, including having to balance her pursuit by Richard and her mistaken identity of Howard for Capra. All the while, Ethel provides commentary on the parade of events. It’s a farce in the truest sense of the word; lots of traffic, using multiple doors, that keep opening and closing, sometimes revealing, sometimes hiding, but always a part of the action.
The highlight of the show is the balcony scene, from the performance of Private Lives; it’s the matinee where Frank Capra is in the audience. Unfortunately George, totally drunk and absorbed in his own self-pity, has confused things and thinks he is performing his role in Cyrano. His daughter Roz, who is filling in for Eileen opens the play; But George is late for his cue, so Roz has to ad lib, which is further complicated by his appearance as Cyrano. It’s a VERY funny scene, and when Paul, Charlotte and Ethel join them they add their own flair to an already hilarious situation. And to quote the hubby again, “I have never been more entertained than those few minutes of comic theatrical genius.”
Moon over Buffalo is an entertaining, funny evening of theatre. You will not be disappointed. Special kudos to Joel Leffert, whose athletic portrayal is very impressive, Denny Dillon, who holds everything together and for having such a commanding voice in a small package, Susan Stitikoff, for that delicious balcony scene and making a big fan out of my husband and of course Brendan Burke for the lightning fast direction. Moon over Buffalo was a hit on Broadway in 1995, and 20 years later it’s a hit in Ellenville, NY.
Moon Over Buffalo runs through August 2nd Box Office 845) 647-5511
Shadowland Theatre 157 Canal Street, Ellenville, New York 12428 http://www.shadowlandtheatre.org