A review of Sound Theatre Company’s staging of Richard Bean’s Broadway comedy.
Sound Theatre Company has unveiled its vigorous, congenial Seattle premiere of the knockabout romp “One Man, Two Guvnors.”
The show runs long and takes its time working up a head of comic steam. But to paraphrase an old actor’s saw, dying is easy — slapstick comedy is hard.
Though old as the hills, slapstick (which probably began when a caveman first slipped on a banana peel to make his pals laugh) tends to inspire either delight or loathing. But many of us make up our minds on a case-by-case basis. (As Lenny Bruce noted, “The only honest art form is laughter … You can’t fake it.”)
‘One Man, Two Guvnors’
by Richard Bean. Center House Theatre, lower level, Seattle Center; $15-$25 (800-838-3006 or soundtheatrecompany.org).
In the case of “One Man, Two Guvnors,” English playwright Richard Bean has cleverly reworked Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century Italian farce “The Servant of Two Masters” into a shrewdly satirical chunk of buffoonery set in 1963. And despite a few missteps, director Ken Michels and the Brit-centric Sound Theatre capture the spirit and mine the interlaced gags and musical numbers most agreeably.
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A highlight of Bean’s adaptation is how it pokes fun at itself, and the British fads and foibles of a time when bouffant hairdos, Cockney mobsters and a new band called the Beatles were all the rage.
The archetypes of ancient commedia dell’arte (drippy lovers, nasty fathers, put-upon servants) also transfer well, along with some lively forays into the audience.
In the blatantly preposterous plot, a small-town hoodlum, Charlie (John Clark), won’t let his daughter Pauline (a deliciously dimwitted Christine Riippi) wed her sweetheart, a preening ham actor played with goofy flair by Daniel Stoltenberg.
Charlie pledges her instead to a fellow mobster he owes big-time, Crabbe — who is deceased, but impersonated by his sister (Kayla Teel). Got that?
While Pauline throws hissy fits, and Charlie has temper tantrums, Crabbe’s half-starved servant, Francis (David Roby), plots his next meal. It’s a long time coming, after the action moves to a Brighton hotel where Francis starts bouncing anxiously between two demanding bosses — and serving dinner to them under two different guises.
Some shtick you’ll recognize, from Shakespeare comedies and TV skits. But there are enough limber jests here, sharply staged by Michels and choreographer Heather Dawson, to keep the amusement bubbling up.
The gawky, rubber-faced Roby executes his pratfalls deftly and radiates cheeky good vibes. Yet compared to Broadway’s “One Man, Two Guvnors” with comic/TV host James Corden, this production doesn’t milk all the shtick it might from a whirligig dinner scene and some trunk-moving tomfoolery.
But it’s hard not to chuckle at the escalating horseplay featuring a nimble Henry James Walker (elder-abuse jokes alert!) as a doddering waiter, or at some Benny Hill-style, wink-wink sexy innuendo from Madison Jade Jones as a bawdy babe. The verbal jousts are fun, and the music is delightful — a jamming mishmash of jaunty pub tunes, Fab Four mock-ups and girl-group harmony.
Margaret Toomey’s ’60s costumes peak with a chiffon frock for Pauline and a loud, red plaid suit for Clark, whose marble-mouthed Cockney accent also befits Charlie (once your ears adjust).
Some casting goes against the grain. Luke Sayler plays Stanley, an amorous thug (and Francis’ second “guvnor”), in the manner of a rugby lunk rather than an arrogant, overprivileged twit — a departure, though not unamusing.
Less successfully, women in male garb portray Charlie’s lawyer, Harry, and his ex-cellmate at the notoriously rough, gender-segregated Brixton Prison. Nice inclusive casting gestures, but they make little sense in this context.
Information in this article, originally published Aug. 10, 2016, was corrected Aug. 11, 2016. A previous version of this story misspelled Margaret Toomey’s name.