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‘Room Service’ at The Vagabond Players by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR STARS
A quirky screwball comedy pops itself onto the stage as The Vagabond Players race toward the finish of their 97th season with this penultimate production of Room Service. Directed by Steve Goldklang, this farcical comedy of characters takes you back to a time long gone when ‘penniless producer’ and ‘swindling con-artist’ went hand in hand often as the same person. Desperate to find a backer for his new production and broker than broke producer Gordon Miller finds himself in quite the pickle as he’s been blacklisted at every hotel in New York City, except for the one that’s currently trying to throw him out. As the shenanigans ensue a great deal of hilarious calamity unfurls in this spitfire comedy.

Set Designer Roy Steinman gives us a truly gaudy interior of this hotel suite; champagne rose paisley flower print wallpaper and deep rich cherry wood and mahogany tones of furnishings and doors to match. Costume Designer Ann Mainolfi keeps it realistic with the dapper simplistic suits of the later 1930’s, especially the numerous garments that pop in and out of the closet during the ‘skipping’ hyjinx. Both Steinman and Mainolfi add little bits of comic flair to their designs, maintaining a reality that allows the comedy of the production to breathe naturally.

 (l to r) Wagner (Peter Jensen) Senator Blake (Andrea Bush), and Gribble (Ian Bonds). Photo by Tom Lauer.

(l to r) Wagner (Peter Jensen) Senator Blake (Andrea Bush), and Gribble (Ian Bonds). Photo by Tom Lauer.

Director Steve Goldklang has an excellent cast of comedians at his disposal, but the pacing, particularly in the first act, is sometimes ‘off,’ so some of the stronger laugh lines fall short of their intended comic value. Goldklang does redeem himself with his casting choices.There are several actors that are fitted seamlessly into this gaggle of goofballs that make the production well worth watching. Even those that just have momentary appearances like Dr. Glass (Glenn Vitale) and Sasha Smirnoff (Mark Wible) bring a raw enthusiasm and delightful demeanor to the show. Vitale falls fast into the physical shtick when playing in scene with the others while Wible brings a great Russian accent to his character, living in the moment with an honest approach that makes his character quite comical.

Bringing another rich accent to the performance is Faker Englund (Don Kammann) with the appropriately thuggish sound of a buster from the Bronx. Kammann has a really keen sense of comic timing that often rises above the stifling pacing of the play letting his lines still land the laughs. Playing opposite the brawn of the operation is the slightly sappy Harry Binion (Larry Malkus). Adding shenanigans with his various taxidermy projects that are in and out of hock, Malkus brings a polished level of surface comedy to the performance, sometimes just appearing in the right place at the right time to earn him a laugh.

The two uproarious comic profiles in this piece are the blustering windbag Gregory Wagner (Peter Jensen) and the timidly nervous Joseph Gribble (Ian Bonds). Both Jensen and Bonds bring fully comic character presences to the performance, paralleling each other to perfection. Jensen has a short fuse for a temper, bellowing about and lumbering around the hotel in a constant fury whereas Bonds is a stammering quivering mess most of the time. Bonds roots his nervous disposition deep into his physicality, trembling, hunching and slumping, and when he tweaks out in the second act it brings forth gut-busting laughter from the audience. Jensen has similar moments of irate eruptions that are simply riotous. The pair of performers are responsible for a great deal of the hysteria throughout the production and really drive the more farcical elements of the production.

While not quite as nervous as Gribble’s character Leo Davis (Greg Jericho) brings his own special brand of nubile uncertainty to the stage. Jericho adapts the country bumpkin-esque character with a slight twang in his voice and a slight hint of naiveté that makes him laughable. Particularly when being forced to play sick and then again when trying to scarf down food Jericho shines as a well placed physically engaged comedian.

Carrying the show on his shoulders is the wheeling and dealing Broadway producer Gordon Miller (Eric C. Stein). There is something to be said for a man who can carry the comedy of a farce with effortless ease and flawless execution the way that Stein does. He’s an engaging character that guides you through the slower moments of the show, pulling you along in the moments of lull to keep you enthralled while throwing perfectly timed one-liners and zingy quips at his cohorts. Stein plays well in both the verbal and physical aspects of his character’s comedy and makes the show thoroughly enjoyable.

 (l to r) Binion (Larry Malkus) Gordon Miller (Eric C. Stein), and Leo Davis (Greg Jericho). Photo by Tom Lauer.

(l to r) Binion (Larry Malkus) Gordon Miller (Eric C. Stein), and Leo Davis (Greg Jericho). Photo by Tom Lauer.

So pick up that telephone and order a healthy dose of Room Service, because you may find yourself laughing quite a bit before this show checks out.

Running Time: Approximately two hours with one intermission.

Room Service plays through May 12, 2013 at The Vagabond Player – 806 South Broadway in Fells Point, Maryland. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 563-9135, or purchase them online.

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