Friday, June 3, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Shameless Shenanigans By Beverly Creasey

Who doesn’t love the Marx Brothers with their bad jokes, lame clowning and their “shameless impropriety”? The Lyric Stage’s production of ANIMAL CRACKERS (through June 4th) is a sure thing…although it’s a slow starter, working feverishly to set up the {I hesitate to call it a} plot about the theft of a painting. All any of us want is to wind the brothers up and let them go but George Kaufman and Morrie Riskin (and adapter Henry Wishcamper) saw the need for complications to tease out the revelry. We just want to hear Groucho’s famous “I shot an elephant in my pajamas…”

It’s a curious phenomenon that people who can run the film endlessly in their mind’s eye delight in seeing it on stage. (I can and I do.) Here’s what makes the Lyric show a treat. “Three Cheers”, as they say, for Captain Spaulding. Ed Hoopman is sensational as the loveable lothario/big game hunter aka Groucho. Leigh Barrett’s Mrs. Dumont (here called Mrs. Rittenhouse) is simply delicious. When Groucho unceremoniously lays his head on her chest, she does a fabulous four-point take in order to absorb what’s going on!

Nael Nacer as Chico and Alycia Sacco as Harpo make us remember why the brothers are so adored. Chico’s word mangling and Harpo’s nonsensical shtick will get you every time. Bert Kalmer and Harry Ruby’s songs are charming, smartly delivered by the “straight men,” some of whom are pretty funny all by themselves, chiefly Aimee Doherty and Merissa Czyz .Rachel Bertone’s smart choreography and Spiro Veloudos’ inventive direction keep spirits up when the brothers are off stage. If only Lyric would revive A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (my favorite Marx Brothers vehicle). Every so often I need to hear Groucho and Chico’s wonderful bit about the “sanity clause.”