Splendidly directed by Tad Janes and cleverly written by Richard Bean with songs by Grant Olding, One Man Two Guvnors is a laugh-out-loud riot with hysterical performances from a versatile cast with outstanding improvisational skills.
Inspired on the Commedia del Arte style and based on Carlo Goldoni’s play The Servant of Two Masters, One Man Two Guvnors updates the story to 1963 England during the beginning of Beatlemania. Francis Henshall is out of luck and out of money, looking for more work. Already employed as a modern manservant to supposedly dead Roscoe Crabbe (who is actually Roscoe’s twin sister, Rachel, masquerading as a man), a criminal accomplice on the run, he unexpectedly gains employment as a manservant to Stanley Stubbers, who is Rachel’s boyfriend, on the run for committing the same crime. Now, Francis must keep either of his guvnors from learning he is working for the other at the same time, keep them from meeting and remember which errand he is supposed to run for either master at the same time! Meanwhile, now that Roscoe is returned from the dead, “he” is still engaged to marry Pauline Clench, while Pauline has since agreed to marry over-dramatic actor, Alan.
Thomas Scholtes delivers a standout performance as the title character Francis Henshall. With his phenomenal comedic timing, natural ease, and charisma onstage, he absolutely steals the show. His bit where he attempts to lift a heavy trunk was absolutely hysterical and literally stopped the show with loud applause. Another scene where he gets into a physical solo fight with himself and drags, twists and turns his body in combat poses across the stage will make your sides ache with laughter. Scholtes is incredibly loveable and it is well worth the trip to Maryland Ensemble Theatre just to see his performance.
Matt Baughman gives Scholtes a serious run for his money when it comes to comedic abilities. In dual roles as wonderfully flamboyant and over dramatic actor, Alan, and then as elderly gentleman, Alfie (who hilariously springs into action whenever his pacemaker is turned up), Baughman displays fantastic character voices and laugh out loud physicality as an elderly gentleman prat falling, tumbling and shakily walking all over the stage.
Isabel Duarte is wonderfully wry and sarcastic as the Clench’s bookkeeper and Francis’ love interest, Dolly. Her excellently timed interjections were fantastic and she provided a wonderful contrast as a firmly feminist female character in the 1960’s.
Matthew Bannister displays boundless versatility as Harry Dangle, a lawyer and Gareth, a waiter. Bannister’s legal monologue at the top of Act II was very impressive and very hilarious.
Jenna Rossman gives a great performance as Roscoe/Rachel Crabbe, one of the guvnors in the title. Masquerading as a man for the majority of the show, Rossman milks every bit of comedy she can get from the gag and some of her occasional slip ups were incredibly funny.
Shea-Mikal Green is adorable as the obnoxiously ditzy blonde, Pauline Clench. The character’s own admissions of how dumb she is makes the performance even funnier, but many of Green’s funny lines are difficult or almost impossible to understand when she is shouting in her character’s thick British accent.
Bob Herbertson is delightfully funny as Pauline’s father, Charlie Clench. His character’s toast at the engagement party at the top of show was wonderfully executed and perfectly set the tone for the rest of the ridiculous comedy.
As the other titular guvnor, Todd Mazzie is haughty as Stanley Stubbers. His constant snobby and sometimes disturbing references to boarding school were incredible and his bit involving the character’s chest hair in Act II was fantastic.
Matt Lee does a phenomenal job as Lloyd Boateng. His constant references to prison involve side-splitting levels of hilarity and Lee still makes a character who is not extremely involved in the plot a very memorable character.
One of the unique factors of the production is the huge amount of direct audience interaction and participation. Audience members are literally pulled from the front row to play minor characters or hold certain props and the improvisational skills all of the actors use throughout the production are phenomenal. The creative freedom to frequently break the fourth wall and directly talk to audience members during monologues or scenes is very refreshing and makes the production even funnier.
Speaking of funny scenes, the dining room scene where Francis attempts to serve both employers in opposite rooms at the same time, with the help of Alfie, a waiter and a chef, was honestly one of the funniest scenes this reviewer has ever seen in any comedy. The classic physical comedy bits were outstanding and the speed of the scene steadily increased to a frantic, breakneck pace with all of the actors executing perfectly timed movements to create well controlled chaos. The series of tongue-twisting alliteration dialogue mid-way through Act II was also hilarious and expertly executed.
Set design by Eric Berninghausen included simple unit backdrops of different locations which allowed plenty of space for all of the physical comedy and the clever design made the small stage area look much larger. The costumes, designed by Kirk Bowers, perfectly evoke the feel of 1960s and Beatlemania. Except for when the actors actually change which character they’re playing, the characters themselves never change costumes and each character is left in an easily identifiable pattern or color scheme.
Giovanni Kavota’s lighting design was fairly simple but used to great effect. Music is used for excellent transitions during the performance and expertly musically directed by Thom Huenger. Members of the cast perform different 60’s era songs during each set change and Huenger accompanies every song very well on guitar, harmonica, or sometimes both. Extremely hilarious musical moments included Matt Baughman playing the tuba and Thomas Scholtes and Shea-Mikal Green playing very unique instruments in Act II.
Running Time: Two hours and 50 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
One Man, Two Guvnors plays through October 4, 2015 at Maryland Ensemble Theatre – 31 West Patrick Street, in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 694-4744, or purchase them online.