“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
The origin of this much-quoted statement may be in question but the truth of it definitely is not.
Proof (if any is needed) is exploding on the arena stage of Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre where several centuries of comedy are displayed in the current production of “One Man, Two Guvnors.”
The style, as explained by directors Andy Robinson and Ben Dicke, is commedia dell’arte, a theatrical form which stretches back to Italy in the 16thcentury and definitely is more slapstick than sophisticated.
In fact, if pratfalls and pies-in-the-face are not your thing —and they certainly are not mine — you still should give the WW production a look.
The effect of shared laughter — and this production generates an incredible amount of this — does wonders to brighten the evening (or afternoon).
Under the inventive Robinson/Dicke aegis, the 11-member cast (plus two highly entertaining ensemble dancers) begins at a trot, soon heads into a canter and winds up at a steady gallop.
If the equestrienne similes don’t seem to fit, they are all I could think of to describe the accelerating madness that expands so rapidly there is no time to catch your breath.
The “plot” (and after this I will stop trying to unroll the action) swirls around Francis Henshall (Logan Foster), a young man in search of a job (he is an unemployed skittle player — look it up, I did) who suddenly finds himself doubly employeask) a gangster-type, while Boss No.2 is Stanley Stubbers (Grayson Samuels), a self-important upper class jerk.
For whatever reason, Francis finds it necessary to keep his two bosses unaware of each other, a difficult assignment as Roscoe is really Rachel Crabbe, masquerading as her dead twin brother for reasons which eventually unfold (sort of). She is in love with Stanley who, unfortunately, is the one who killed Roscoe for reasons whichalso eventually unfold (also sort of).
Meanwhile, Roscoe is engaged to Pauline Clench (Laura Plyler), at the insistence of her father Charlie “The Duck” Clench (Michael Yocum). She, however, is in love with Alan Dangle (Ian Laudino), an out-of-work amateur actor who employs theatrical declamatory statements whenever possible.
Those are the basics which, of course, become increasingly entangled as Francis struggles to maintain two bosses (separately) and control his constant craving for food and for Charlie’s bookkeeper, Dolly (Leanne Antonio).
That everything turns out well by the final blackout goes without saying and, if you really can’t decipher exactly why or how, don’t worry.
Getting there is all the fun.
Francis is, of course, the primary character and Foster delivers each action/reaction with perfect timing, especially when holding convoluted conversations with himself! He shifts gears swiftly, depending upon which “guvnor” is in charge at the moment, and somehow manages to keep his balance, for most of the time, at least.
Timing, most especially in farce, is just about everything and, when a company of players has this difficult art down to a T, it is a pleasure to watch.
Everyone here lives up to the break-neck pace designed by the directors but special mention must be made of Chase Heinemann. He is Alfie, an octogenarian waiter with a balance problem. In a role that requires no talking, he has mastered the art of the geriatric shuffle and inevitable pratfall in a way that makes the audience wince but (hopefully) leaves him unbruised and has everyone with him every step (or fall) of the way.
There is no mistaking the location — “various locales around Brighton, England” —thanks to scenic designer Jacki Andersen’s giant Union Jack painted over the entire stage.
The era — 1963 — is mentioned frequently in the dialogue but, in case there is any doubt, the “ensemble” — Cameron Sirian and Ashlyn Maddox — filled each scene change with dance moves definitely of the ‘60s.
Note of caution to those with seats near the stage: Just be prepared — and keep on laughing!@
“ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS” plays through Aug. 5 in the theater on 25 17 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041.