One Man, Two Guvnors directed by William T. Fleming and produced by Karen Flemling is now playing at Silver Spring Stage. This play is a British farce by Richard Bean, based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni. The updated British version includes songs by Grant Olding. Goldini wrote his play in 1746 and it was drawn on the tradition of the commedia dell’arte.
The characters are stock characters, very funny and easy to laugh at as they are very one-dimensional. They are neither empathetic or sympathetic because of that. The locale is now 1963 England. The plot is convoluted, but it revolves around three couples trying to unite or reunite. One is Pauline (Lena Winter) the daughter of a local businessman, Charlie Clench (Kevin Dykstra). Pauline is in love and engaged to a young actor, Alan Dangle (Daniel Riker), and he is the son of Harry Dangle (David Flinn) a smarmy attorney. In comes Rachel Crabbe (Kristin Pilgrim) disguised as her twin brother. She is enamored with Stanley Stubbers (Anderson Wells) who just happened to kill her twin brother. She employs a servant, Francis Henshall (Nathan Tatro) who winds up working for both her and, of course, unbeknownst to Rachel, her lover who has just come into town. Francis is the focus of the play as was his counterpart Truffaldino in the Goldini piece. He is a clown, not very smart and always hungry. Attracted to him is Dolly (Amanda Spellman) who works for Charlie. Lloyd Boateng (Greg Garcia) is Charlie’s and Rachel’s friend. He is the only person who realizes Rachel is in disguise but keeps her secret. Two other stock characters are Gareth (Jacy D’Aiutolo) the maître’ de at the local restaurant and Alfie (Lenora Spahn) the very old and decrepit waiter.
To tell you more about the plot would only seem confusing and, of course, take away from the fun. The play is full of witty lines and broad slapstick humor. It also has some audience participation. The characters often speak, not just in asides to the audience, but often have conversations with them.
In keeping with making the audience part of the fun, Fleming has placed the band right in the middle of the two sections of the theater. The music by Grant Olding is a throwback to skiffle music popular in the late 50s and early 60s in England. The very early Beatles and much of Herman’s Hermits incorporated skiffle music. It is part rock and roll and part British music hall. The band consists of Danny Santiago on guitar and lead vocal, Nick Huff on bass and Tyler Golsen on percussion, including a washboard. They wonderfully catch the sound of that era despite the fact that they are not out of their teens. They even manage British accents when they sing.
The most challenging role of the play is Francis Henshall. Tatro does a superb job never missing a beat, especially in the taxing restaurant scene where Francis is trying to serve dinner to his two employers while trying to stave off his own hunger. He must do this without either finding out about the other. Tatro with the help of Spahn and D’Aiutolo as well as an “unwitting” member of the audience, create one of the most memorable comedy scenes of the year. It is no wonder that James Corden won a Tony for this clownish role.
Spahn who is playing someone much older than herself and of the opposite sex is perfectly Chaplinesque as she dodders about the stage. The highlight is when the server, Alfie, tries to open a bottle of wine with a corkscrew.
Pilgrim and Wells as the two lovers trying to reunite are also spot-on in their comedy. Wells’ rendition of “Just My Luck” will have you singing along. Pilgrim’s explanation of identical versus fraternal twins is a sidesplitting moment.
The other two females, Winter and Spellman, are also standouts in their roles of Pauline and Dolly. Winter somehow makes the dumb blond believable, and this blond is very dumb. Spellman is just right as Dolly, the wiser assistant who is hot to trot for Francis. Her song with Winter and Pilgrim “Lighten Up and Lay Low” is classic.
Riker as Alan is pompous as the young actor in love with Pauline and his song, “Burgers and Mash” is the first song performed on stage. The first four songs are done in the audience by the band and by D’Aiutolo in the role of a bobby. Riker’s rendition put us in the mood for One Man, Two Guvnors to be a very different musical.
Dykstra as the harried businessman, Garcia as the kindly convict, Flinn as the lawyer and D’Aiutolo as Gareth all do a great job in supporting roles. The whole cast shines in the finale, “Tomorrow Looks Good from Here”. It was a perfect end of a rollicking good time.
Fleming also is credited with the set, which was very innovative. There were two screens that show background locales of various parts of the city. In the middle of these is a series of panels and doors that glided in and out or are turned around to create interiors and exteriors.
The conceptual part of the director’s staging decisions helps makes this theater rock. Putting the band amongst the audience, the handling of audience members on stage and off is his vision and it works masterfully. The pace of the show keeps you from noticing it is a little long for today’s theater crowd. Only the expository opening scene seems a little slow and the hilarity is just minimally affected by the fact that it is sometimes slightly hard to understand the British accents and slang. This is not As You Like It but more like A Comedy of Errors. It’s not the dialogue but the action that is so marvelous.
Also, thumbs up go to Steve Deming for a great lighting and projection design, Maria Littlefield for Set Decoration and Maria V. Bissex for costume design, especially those for her actresses both dressed as males and females.
Sometimes on a hot summer’s day or evening, you just want to be entertained. Silver Spring Stage has created their own summer blockbuster with One Man, Two Guvnors. So, skip the newest sequel at the movies and see this bright and very funny play.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with an intermission.