This is a funny play, written in 1995 by Ken Ludwig and set in 1953. It reminds us what live theater was like, and in a funny way it pays tribute to stage actors. I was surprised to find it was written by a modern-day playwright because he seems so attune to life on the stage in the 1950s. (He also wrote the very funny, previously-performed “Lend Me A Tenor”.) Interestingly, Ludwig uses references too obscure for most of today’s audiences and the program kindly provided information for most of them. These are references I would expect from playwrights from the 1930s but find it intriguing that a modern playwright would reference the Lunts, Katharine Cornell, Greer Garson, Ronald Colman, and Noel Coward. Most of our party of six didn’t know any of them (ouch!) but Ludwig obviously doesn’t care and includes the references for only movie and stage fans and hopes the rest of the play will be enough for everyone else.
The writing is clever, some of the humor is slapstick, but a bit of it centers around cheesy male organ jokes using Cyrano’s fake nose and then a wine bottle - not a big fan. Acting on the whole was uneven; when you start to think about the acting ability you are watching, you are pulled out of the story. Jon March in the role of George Hay (a very demanding part including much physicality and playing an extended drunk) was great and really carried the show. Margi Hanks as his wife, Charlotte Hay, and Carole McNulty as his mother-in-law, Ethel, were also outstanding.
On the whole, you will come away with an appreciation of live theater, what it was, and a sense of the impact movies and TV had on the theater. The cultural shift from vaudeville and the stage to movies and TV was huge. This is a play I will read for a fresh evaluation of the work, away from the acting. (For anyone interested in the stage to film transition, check out “Once Upon a Time” by George Kaufman and Moss Hart. From 1930 and containing even more references that may be obscure to today’s audiences, it’s incredibly well-written and hilarious.)
The Civic is a great venue, small and intimate, and there are no bad seats. And as theater goers, we all appreciate a live performance, even if all the acting is not stellar.