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Predictably perfect: (l-r) Norton, Younger, Hayden and Hans in Moon Over Buffalo.

Backstage Laughs
By Kathryn Ceceri

Moon Over Buffalo
By Ken Ludwig, directed by Melissa Putterman-Hoffman
Home Made Theater, through Oct. 26

If I tell you that the set of Moon Over Buffalo has five doors, all evenly spaced, and that the sound of pants ripping is heard throughout the evening, you should get a pretty good idea of what kind of a romantic comedy we’re dealing with here. Playwright Ken Ludwig’s backstage farce is a close cousin of shows like Kiss Me Kate, which get their energy from the depiction of the less-than-glamorous, messy aspects of actors on tour. But as with all good variations on a well-worn theme, there’s a twist.

As Shakespeare did, Ludwig has actually set his seemingly historical piece in the present. The identified year is 1953: Theatrical dynasties like the Lunts are on the way out, the golden age of big-budget Hollywood studio productions is growing old, and that scourge called “television” is luring Americans away from the live stage. But because Ludwig writes with a modern sensibility, jokes, turns of phrase, even a whole subplot that never would have been dreamed of in an American comedy actually written in the ’50s slip in at regular intervals.

The effect is sometimes jarring, but the fact is that Moon Over Buffalo just
wouldn’t work without the anachronisms. And since it undeniably does work in Home Made Theater’s production (and with a vengeance), who am I to quibble?

Director Melissa Putterman-Hoffmann’s cast bite into their roles with relish, and the company’s comic timing is flawless. George (Greg Younger) and Charlotte Hay (Sari Bobbin)—whose faces grace the cover of a Life magazine hanging over the backstage phone of a nondescript theater in downtown Buffalo—fear their chance at stardom is gone; still they cling to the dream of careers like Ronald Coleman’s and Greer Garson’s.

Younger, in his booming baritone, and HMT regular Bobbin, in her cool
platinum-blond self-absorption, affect the kind of aristocratic, pseudo-English accents so noticeable in movies of that era. Younger’s eye-widening dramatics alone—not to mention his version of the standard drunken scene—make half the show.

Kathy Hans as Charlotte’s mother, Ethel the wardrobe mistress, makes up nearly the other half. Though Ludwig derives several jokes from Ethel’s deafness, Hans’ physicality and wry delivery of her offhand observations make the device superfluous.

The Hays’ daughter Rosalind (Shannon Hayden) vows to give up this colorful but tumultuous existence for life in plain black-and-white, working in advertising. She must choose between old flame Paul (Daniel Norton), the company’s manager, and Howard the TV weatherman (Heath Hanley). Hanley has the fresh-scrubbed innocence of a Matthew Broderick, but Norton’s Paul is pretty whitebread himself—especially compared to dashingly rakish George.

Rounding out the talented cast are Shenendehowa High School senior Krista DeNovio as Eileen, the vulnerable ingénue, and Rick Wissler as Richard, the Hays’ big New York lawyer who half-jokingly tries to win Charlotte away from George.

The sprawling set by William E. Fritz, thrusting out into what is normally the first few rows of the orchestra, serves its purpose without getting in the way; all those doors provide a satisfying slam when needed. David Yergan’s best lighting comes out for the onstage “balcony” above, on which the players alternate between the swashbuckling of Cyrano de Bergerac and the sophisticated banter of Private Lives.

Karen Boynton’s costumes perfectly fulfill their role of making the period and the character instantly identifiable, without distracting from the action (except for Charlotte’s to-die-for feathered cloche). Moon Over Buffalo is predictable in the best way: It delivers what it promises, with gusto. 

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