Sam Bass Theatre is currently producing Moon Over Buffalo by Ken Ludwig, and director Brett Weaver and his well-balanced cast of eight talented actors have produced an energetic and frenetic fun romp that makes for a highly entertaining evening of comedic theater. There are no errors in this rendition of the oft-produced Ken Ludwig play.
Michael Clinkscales, fresh off his successful performance in the Sam Bass holiday run of A Tuna Christmas, brings his considerable experience and full range of emotions into the role of George Hay, the head of a small theater company trying to make a go of it in 1953. In particular, he has one long well-delivered monologue that, in parts, is especially poignant and reminiscent of his “Petey Fisk” monologue on the meaning of Christmas Eve. His appropriately over-the-top portrayal of a womanizer who can’t handle his liquor requires a full commitment to slapstick comedy, and R. Michael does not fail to deliver.
Michael is capably matched by Carolyn Wright as George’s long-suffering wife and acting partner, Charlotte. Early on, as she massages George’s neck, she turns from calm, tender woman to angry harpy in a few speeches so subtlety that the change is surprising and, in the context, highly amusing.
Besides his principals, director Weaver has assembled a talented group of seasoned actors to turn Ken Ludwig’s 1995 script into a fast-paced offering. Tessa Demming scores as the young daughter, Rosalind, who wants to escape with her finance, Howard, ably played by Rhett O’Hara, from the madcap world of her parents. Andy Barham is Paul, the stage manager who tries to keep some order in the company while still pining for the love of Rosalind. Susan Barratt is Eileen, the ingenue impregnated by George in a one-night stand but who winds up eloping with Howard. Scott Shipman plays Richard, the love-sick lawyer who almost gets Charlotte to run off with him when she learns of George’s infidelity. As Ethel, the all-knowing but hard-of-hearing mater-familias, Monica Ballard demonstrates wonderful timing in the delivery of her lines.
There actually is a plot to this play involving mistaken identities, infidelity, a repertory of Cyrano de Bergerac and Private Lives, and Frank Capra, but it seems to exist only to tie together a lot of opportunities for comedy and slapstick. Keep in mind this play served as a vehicle for the return to Broadway after 30 years for Carol Burnett. She and her George, Philip Bosco, were nominated for best actress and best actor in the Tony Awards that season. The play had a run of 309 performances.
It wasn’t just direction and acting that makes this production a success. Costume Designer Olin Meadows and his team of costumers has created a palette of clothing and accessories for the cast that really evokes the 1950s. And kudos to Props Master Sara DeSoto for dressing the set in a way that reinforces the look of that period.
And the set. Oh, the set. I have seen the Sam Bass theater stage in its bare bones, and it is not a pretty sight. Scenic Designer Eric Nelson, Lead Carpenter Jim Mischel, and Scenic Artist Debra Mischel have outdone themselves – and that’s hard to do with their track record at Sam Bass – in this production. They have provided tastefully painted walls with six(!) doors and a flight of stairs onto the postage stamp that is the stage. And the pièce de résistance is a curtain. A curtain across the Bass stage that is not just pushed aside early in the show but is carefully tucked away into a vertical storage cabinet that is part of the set. In the second act, it is brought out again to provide a backdrop for the mashup that is The Private Lives of Cyrano de Bergerac – or something like that.
Moon Over Buffalo continues at the Sam Bass Theatre in Round Rock Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through February 18. Ticket information is at sambasstheatre.org.