Abigail has worked as an actor/director in Chicago for over ten years, and along with husband Jason Epperson founded Lotus Theatricals in 2015, and PerformInk Chicago and Kansas City in 2016 (where she serves as Managing Editor of both publications). When not talking shop, Abigail is raising three padawans with Jason, drinking lots of coffee, converting school buses into RV's, and eating all the foods at Disney World. You can find her on Twitter @AbigailTrabue
Timothy Edward Kane and Elizabeth Ledo. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Review: ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS at Court Theatre
By Abigail Trabue
Richard Bean’s ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS—based on the 18th-century commedia dell’arte play The Servent of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni—is a laugh-out-loud, silly, whip-crack smart comedy, and probably the most fun I’ve had at the theater in a long time. From the moment you enter Court Theatre and take in Collette Pollard’s Brighton Pier set with its big top feel you know you are not in for tragedy and tears. Freedom of conversation between the actor and the audience is established as actors mingle pre-show with the crowd.
Through song, we are introduced to the world of ONE MAN with the players as the band (led by Elisa Carlson, who’s clearly not met an instrument she can’t play, my favorite being the ultra-cool Airboard). It’s Brighton, 1963, an engagement party for newly engaged Pauline (Chaon Cross) and Alan, the actor, (played with Waiting for Guffman-like perfection by Alex Goodrich). But this happy and desperate-to-do-it couple’s joy is thwarted when Pauline’s former fiance Roscoe Crabbe (Elizabeth Ledo)—resurrected from the grave—shows up to claim his future bride.
Sound like a crazy plot already? It gets better. Through a series of incidents, we learn that Roscoe is not Roscoe at all, but his (not-identical) twin sister Rachel who’s on the run from the London police. She’s in town to collect on a debt owed to her late brother by Pauline’s father Charlie ‘The Duck’ (Frances Guinan) and waiting to meet her fugitive love Stanley (Erik Hellman). Unaware that the other has already arrived in Brighton, both Rachel and Stanley hire, Frances (Timothy Edward Kane), a down on his luck and incredibly hungry man, to be their handler and help them avoid the police.
From here we watch the day play out as Frances navigates having two Guvnors (and trying to find some food), Alan dramatically fights and pines for Pauline, Charlie unsuccessfully tries to come up with the money owed to Roscoe, and Charlie’s bookkeeper Dolly (Hollis Resnick) is wooed by Frances to take a trip to Majorca with him. In the end, everyone ends where they should. It is no surprise that all of the above leads to some incredibly hilarious cases of mistaken identity infused with some of the wittiest improv and physical theater you’ll see on the stage right now.
If you are studying any form of physical, comedic, or stylized theater, see this show. The specificity of character, the timing of lines, the quick-on-their-feet improv, and the ability to take a joke that doesn’t go as far as they’d like, and either make it work or make fun of it, is a must-see for all who love/work-in/study this art form. Charles Newell has put together a talented cast and led them expertly down the path to comedy gold in every scene. There is not a bad apple in this ensemble, not one. Kane is a hilarious Frances. His interaction with the audience is endearing, and he is non-stop in the lunch scene, never missing a comedic beat, thus never giving us a second to catch our breaths before the next moment. Ledo’s gangster Roscoe with her/his Napoleon-esq attitude is fantastic. Her physical and vocal work is so spot on, and it’s a blast watching her play a man, who from time to time has to switch to her female character still dressed as a man. It’s no surprise to see plenty of Shakespeare on Elizabeth’s resume. She’s the cross-dressing female character down.
But the night belonged to Goodrich and Hellman. Goodrich in his 60’s blue suit and turtleneck plays the cliche actor with such heart and commitment that you don’t fault the script for playing the obvious actor joke (spotlight, anyone?). Hellman wins us over the moment he smacks his face as the show starts (ridiculously funny stage combat makes me so happy, and this show has plenty of it). Hellman is endearing when he talks to us, and you have to appreciate any actor that can keep a straight face and commit to his improv moment in the face of a scene partner who can’t keep it together.
While the physical theater made me incredibly happy, I almost leapt for joy over the quality and sound of the music. Sound designer Joshua Horvath has given ONE MAN the concert sound needed to make the music a part of the show and Doug Peck has guided all the actors to move seamlessly from song to text and back again. Never once did Grant Olding’s songs feel out of place, and live music in a play can be a tricky thing to do, but here again, you have actors who just don’t falter. Guitar solos, catchy bass lines, solid 3 part harmony—all of it is so polished, but still fun.
We are so often focused on the seriousness of life, and it’s delightful to step into an alternate world where the highest stakes are love, and keeping your employer from knowing about your other employer. To spend an evening with actors who are clearly having fun with us and with each other is refreshing. It’s why I love theater. Sometimes being silly, making a crude joke, breaking on stage and laughing can really make a show come alive.
As I watched these 11 actors working so many elements of their craft I wanted nothing more than to be a part of their family, to live in this show and find new discoveries every night, because that’s what will happen with ONE MAN. It’ll grow, it’ll become a tighter show. Some nights they’ll drop plates, and a chicken ball may not make it into Frances’s mouth, but I have a feeling these quick-to-react actors will handle it with comedic grace and make the show even more enjoyable—if that’s even possible.
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