A valentine to the Rogue Valley

When Ken Ludwig's "Moon Over Buffalo" opened on Broadway in 1995, one reviewer called it "a love letter to live theater." Camelot Theatre Company's production, which opened Friday in Talent, is the theater's 2010 valentine to the Rogue Valley.

The New York Times described "Moon Over Buffalo" as "old-fashioned knock-about farce." Frantic action, mistaken identity, emotional mismatches, perilous scrapes — the play has it all.

It's 1953 and George and Charlotte Hay are the aging stars of a second-rate touring company doing plays such as "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Private Lives" in repertory. Television is crowding out movies as mass entertainment and both are killing live theater. George and Charlotte have made unsuccessful forays into Hollywood and they steadfastly refuse to even consider television. Pride, you know. They are currently playing Buffalo, described as "Scranton, without the charm."

But there is still a glimmer of hope. When George's agent calls with the news that the famous film director Frank Capra is desperately looking for a replacement for an injured Ronald Colman and a fleeing Greer Garson in "The Twilight of the Scarlet Pimpernel," those bright lights beckon one more time. Capra, they are told, is on his way to catch today's matinee performance.

Add to the mix George and Charlotte's visiting daughter, Rosalind, who abandoned the theater for a job in advertising, and her new fiancé, Howard, a wimpy TV weatherman, along with the rest of the rep company: stage manager and secondary-part actor, Paul; the company ingénue, Eileen (with whom George has had a one-night stand); the Hays' sometime attorney, Richard, who has long been pining for Charlotte; and Charlotte's all-but-deaf mother, Ethel, the deus ex machina for most of the action.

Will Howard get over stage fright and meet the parents? Can George explain Eileen's pregnancy to Charlotte? Will Richard persuade Charlotte to run off with him? Will Paul win back Rosalind? Will Ethel ever put in that damn hearing aid?

And, most importantly, will Frank Capra be impressed enough to give George and Charlotte their big break?

Director Gwen Overland uses every shtick in the book to keep the action outrageous and as broad as possible. The opening night audience just loved it.

Camelot Theatre Company plays to its strengths here. Artistic Director Livia Genise is Charlotte to Producing Director Doug Warner's George. Both actors are polished veterans and they make the most of playwright Ludwig's zinging lines and director Overland's pratfalls. Tai Sammons brings a sweet and wry counterpoint as Rosalind.

Equally, Brian O'Connor is charming as the bumbling Howard and Brandon Byron Manley is deft as the poor, put-upon Paul. Kristie Abart is a sharp, catty observer as Ethel. Both Shannon McReynolds and Jack Seybold make the most of what little Ludwig wrote for Eileen and Richard, each of whom drives the action in some way, though not in the middle of it.

All ends well — and as to be expected, of course. Even Capra gets a second chance.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival fight choreographer U. Jonathan Toppo helped out on an energetic fencing match by George and Charlotte and Howard's inexplicable cameo appearance as George Patton, complete with helmet and loaded gun. Neither event makes much sense or has much to do with moving the plot, but they are entertaining interludes nonetheless.

"Moon Over Buffalo" plays at Camelot Theatre Company in Talent through March 7. For more information, call 541-535-5250 or log onto www.camelottheatre.org.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

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