The Lyric Stage is blessed to have two master comedians in their raucous production of Richard Bean’s ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (playing through Oct. 12th). The success of the spoof based on Goldoni’s 18th century THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS (now set, British music hall style, in the 1960s) depends entirely on who’s taking the pratfalls.
In director Spiro Veloudos’ freewheeling production, Neil A. Casey reigns supreme as an ambitious bloke who signs on to work full time for two bosses, laboring feverishly to keep each one from knowing about the other. Casey not only splits his time when the bosses aren’t looking, he splits his personality—so that a conversation with himself (“I shouldn’t do it. Yes, I should. No. Yes.”) quickly becomes a raging argument which devolves into a knock down drag out affair, when his left hand lands an uppercut which isn’t defended by his right because he wasn’t paying attention.
More comic bliss is supplied in abundance by John Davin, in the role of an ancient waiter who has seen better days and evidently never thought of getting his eyes checked. He keeps running into doors, walls, furniture, anything that can send him reeling across the stage. We clearly see the obstacles heading in his direction where he does not, which is the sure fire, banana peel formula for sensational slapstick.
The cast juggles Bean’s godawful puns, carrying on bravely in the face of a convoluted plot about gangsters and murder victims and true love. The set-up in Act I is molasses paced but once the audience gets all the characters straight, and the exposition is in place, the train (or should I say ‘bus’) starts to roll. This is one of those times you have to sit back, forget about the lame-as-they-come jokes and let the physical comedy pull you along.
You can even join in. There’s plenty of room for audience participation. You’re encouraged to sing along with the corny songs proffered by Catherine Stornetta’s jaunty skiffle band. One enthusiastic audience member at my performance was inspired to take the stage and dance! No one seemed to mind.
My audience was so delighted by the give and take that at one point during the show, we assumed a rather trepidacious fellow making his way down the side stairs, was part of the play. All eyes were on him as he tried to exit the ramp but seeing actors headed his way, turned and instead, ascended the steep central stairs to the upper level. I thought this was a brilliant bit until I saw an usher grab him at the top of the stairs. I assume she guided the poor man safely to the men’s room. (The point being once you’ve given yourself over to the spirit of the silliness, you’re ready and willing to laugh at anything and who doesn’t need laughter desperately these days?)
The Lyric has a passel of actors who know how to milk a laugh: Larry Coen slings Latin phrases like cream pies. Tiffany Chen stares in magnificent blank bewilderment. McCaela Donovan hilariously loses her patience with biology. Even Alejandro Simoes’ exits are funny.
Dale Place’s yellow shoes set me off. Likewise Aimee Doherty’s pseudo-feminist flounce and Davron S. Monroe’s wonderful wig and even more wonderful head wag. Then there’s Harry McEnerny’s so somber headwaiter and Dan Whelton’s deadly charmer…I could go on and on.
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS is no NOISES OFF but the production is. And if you’re a fan of Benny Hill humor, you’ll be in clover ‘til the cows come home. (I’m not a Hill fan and I was won over in spite of myself: “No. Yes!”)