Recommended *** Do you remember that scene in “Bull Durham” where Kevin Costner’s character told the rookie to learn his clichés and use them? I’m going to go out on a limb and mention a couple of reviewer clichés I’ve heard. First cliché, the Court Theatre doesn’t do comedy. Second cliché, the Court takes itself too seriously. “One Man, Two Guvnors” just blew both of those clichés right out of the water!
Of course, Artistic Director Charles Newell says that “One Man, Two Guvnors” continues an exploration enabling their artists to revive, re-examine and reconsider enduring works from the past, but we know he really means that the Court can totally do hilarious comedy.
As we got settled into our seats, I told my friend, Nancy, that the set looked a lot like the pier in Brighton with a sandy beach and sailboats on the water in the background. There’s a small kiosk on either side of the stage. Below the stage, reached by a couple of sets of stairs, beach balls, towels, sand toys and European style beach chairs sat on a layer of sand. To my surprise, the show opened with a song about Brighton!
The stellar cast is a virtual who’s who in Chicago theater, and all of them sing, dance and play a variety of musical instruments as well as spoons, a washboard and a saw. Action frequently stops as the entire cast, which also includes Elisa Carlson and Derek Hasenstab, play and sing a silly song. A drum set is mounted on a pushcart, which can be moved about as needed. At one point, the Harlequin pushes that cart holding the drummer and another. Next time the cart appears, there are four people on board; next time, the whole cast.
Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench (Francis Guinan), is a genial con man who owed the recently murdered Roscoe Crabbe a lot of money, so by way of payment, he made his daughter, Pauline (Chaon Cross), get engaged to him.
Now Pauline is celebrating her engagement to Alan Dangle (Alex Goodrich), who wants to be an actor. Alan’s father, Harry Dangle (Ross Lehman), is Charlie’s lawyer and a legal shark known for getting the Mau Mau off. Dolly (Hollis Resnik), Charlie’s bookkeeper, would really like to find a man. Charlie’s friend, Lloyd Boateng (Allen Gilmore), who’s spent some time in Brixton Prison, was also Roscoe’s friend. He warns Charlie that Roscoe’s twin sister, Rachel, whose boyfriend, murdered Roscoe, is on her way to Brighton to collect the money.
Charlie is shocked and Pauline is slightly hysterical when Roscoe (Elizabeth Ledo) turns up at her engagement party. Roscoe (Rachel in disguise) is waiting for her boyfriend, who is on the lam, to meet her in Brighton. Her man, Francis Henshall (Timothy Edward Kane), has a tiny problem. Roscoe/Rachel promised to pay him at the end of the week, but he needs to eat in the meantime, so he accepts a job from a gentleman, Stanley Stubbers (Erik Hellman), who is actually Rachel’s love.
By the way, “One Man, Two Guvnors” is an adaptation of an Italian Commedia dell’Arte comedy, “Servant of Two Masters”, written in 1743 by Carlo Goldoni. The central character is the Harlequin, Francis Henshall, brilliantly played by Timothy Edward Kane. He’s all about getting someone else to do his work for him, so when he has trouble carrying a heavy trunk for one of his guvnors, he recruits two guys from the audience to do it for him.
When Henshall has to serve dinner to his two guvnors – one in each kiosk – he diverts a large portion of each course to himself. He stands at a serving cart while the waiters bring the food. The first course, the soup, is served in a large tureen. He gives one tureen to one guvnor, the other he gives to a woman in the audience to hold for him. When he decides to add more food to his soup, he brings her up on stage to assist, eventually having her hide behind the serving cart.
There’s a whole sequence of food flying through the air, as the waiters toss stuff to Henshall to catch. Act I ends as he throws a cream pie into each kiosk, hitting both guvnors in the face.
“One Man, Two Guvnors” runs through June 12th at the Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago.
Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes, with an intermission.
Wednesdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8:00 pm.
Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 pm.
Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm.
Tickets range from $45-$65.
Parking is free in the garage next door to the theater (you’ll have to take a ticket, but the gate will be up when you leave). FYI (773) 753-4472 or www.courttheatre.org.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “One Man, Two Guvnors”.