Oct. 15--The show: "Room Service" at Westport Country Playhouse
What makes it special?: Final show of the season of comedy at the playhouse.
First impressions: It takes a little while before this 1937 show biz comedy by John Murray and Allen Boretz gets rolling. The story about a desperate producer trying to keep himself and his cast from being thrown out of the hotel where they are staying has an overabundance of twists, turns and digressions.
But by the second of its three acts, the laughs start to come at an increasing pace and by the end, it's one fine farce. Mark Lamos adroitly directs his swell comic cast in a delightfully daft production.
The title rings a bell: It was also a 1938 movie starring the Marx Brothers. It wasn't their best effort, but it kept the property alive and has often been done in schools, summer stock and community and regional theaters. (There was only one Broadway revival in 1953 that quickly closed.)
And here?: It receives a first class production. It had me at the wallpaper, part of John Arnone's deco set design that wittily reflects a fading Times Square hotel.
But no Marx Brothers types?: Just in the screwball spirit of comic flim-flammers.
What's the story?: Long before "The Producers" Max Bialystock there was Gordon Miller (Ben Steinfeld), an ethically challenged theatrical ringmaster. His hapless brother-in-law (David Beach) is the hotel manager who has been snookered into allowing Miller to keep his 22-member cast on the premises during rehearsals for an absurd historical pageant. But with the arrival of the hotel's exec (Michael McCormick), the jig is up as Miller, his cronies (Richard Ruiz, Jim Bracchitta) and a rube playwright (Eric Bryant) try in myriad ways to defer the heave-ho and get the show to open.
Along the way there's a nominal love interest (Hayley Treider), a bigwig investor (Frank Vlastnik), the hotel doc (Donald Corren), a sassy actress (Zoe Winters) and a waiter who wants to be an actor (Peter Von Berg).
Sounds crowded: Sometimes things get a little messy script-wise, but Lamos has kept the overarching goal clear, the characters defined and the staging almost spot on.
Almost?: The famous food scene where the actors finally and furiously grab grub after a starvation effort by the hotel management is still funny. But it misses comic bliss by not being specific or calibrated enough in its frenzy. And while Wade Laboissonniere's costumes are mostly nifty, one woman has an especially ratty-looking wig.
That's being picky: You're right. Lets talk about the performances that are very good indeed. First off, the show is in great hands with Steinfeld as lead conniver, giving the right verbal punch to the clever and even the not-so clever lines. Even without a Groucho persona, Steinfeld remains masterfully in charge of the mayhem, keeping the comedy high not just in its crazed moments but in its quieter one, too. (He gets one of the shows biggest laughs just by calmly saying, "Too soon, too soon" with a look that says so much more.)
As the exasperated foils both Beach and McCormick show different sides of hysteria. Bracchitta and Ruiz are wonderful without even saying a line -- and more so when they do (or in the case of Ruiz when he demonstrates his talent for faux-weeping). Eric Bryant (TheaterWorks' "Almost, Maine") is a comic find as the hick playwright who gets swept up in one scam after another with increasing willingness.
Who will like it?: Fans of farce, backstage comedies and free room and board.
Who won't?: Hospitality professionals. Those expecting Groucho, Chico and Harpo.
For the kids?: The set-up may be a bit baffling (you might have to explain what a house dick is) but they'll love the nuttiness.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: The con is on.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: There's something to be said for an inspired curtain call. This one is a corker and if it doesn't send the audience out on a high, it at least gets the cast off stage with a looney tune.
The basics: "Room Service" runs through Oct. 27. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes with two intermissions. Performances are Tuesdays at 8 p.m.; Wednesdays at 2 and 8 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m. Information: 203-227-4177 and www.westportplayhouse.org.
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