Shufflin' Off to Hollywood

Got that? Add just a few more details: Richard (he's George and Charlotte's lawyer) shows up just in time to escort sometime-paramour Charlotte away. Why? Charlotte has discovered that George has also been having an affair and that he has recently impregnated the troupe's ingenue, Eileen. Deserted by his wife, George gets so drunk that he is not in shape to go on stage for the performance that Capra will attend.

Throw in some slamming doors, plus missed connections of the sort that result from characters running in and out of slammed doors, a gun that goes off by mistake, and a character who is bound and gagged and left in the closet, and what you have is -- well, what you have is a comedy that might be hilarious if the Marx Brothers were starring in it.

Groucho and siblings are, alas, not appearing at the Parker Playhouse, but this doesn't mean that the evening is a bust. Ludwig does write good scenes for actors, and several cast members take advantage of them. In particular, Tod Petersen plays Howard as a kind of generic '50s man come to life. This implausibly earnest Howard takes his calling as a TV weatherman terribly seriously. In what may be the play's one truly inspired scene, Howard -- mistaken for Frank Capra by Charlotte -- responds to a compliment about his work by "performing" a weather forecast, announcing with a bow and a flourish that "the barometric pressure is falling rapidly." Marvy, as Charlotte, cannot but be mystified, and quite convincingly so.

Connie SaLoutos, who plays Rosalind, also gives a strong performance and a charismatic one. She's more charming than Jason Lee Collins' unassuming Paul, whose performance leaves no impression. Buffy Sedlachek has the thankless task of playing Ethel, a one-note character, but does so with grace. Joe Van Slyke makes a whole person out of Richard, virtually a walk-on role. And Michelle Carpenter gives a sophisticated dumb-blonde performance, full of smart acting choices, that makes you realize it's the character and not the actress who is dumb.

Director Curt Wollan (also president of Troupe America, Inc., the show's producing arm) steers his company through the brisk-moving farce, only failing to build hilarity where Ludwig has not allowed it to occur. But even a strong director cannot make Gavin MacLeod into Philip Bosco, or even into an actor who can compellingly hold our interest on his own. MacLeod's big solo is unfortunately also a drunk scene, a golden opportunity for the actor to show us either his character's vulnerability or his desperation. Instead we see the immensely hammy side of the actor. That sort of performance doesn't play well -- here or in Buffalo.

Moon Over Buffalo.
Written by Ken Ludwig. Directed by Curt Wollan. Starring Gavin MacLeod, Nancy Marvy, Connie SaLoutos, Buffy Sedlachek, Michelle Carpenter, Tod Petersen, Jason Lee Collins, and Joe Van Slyke. Through January 3 at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-763-2444.

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