One Man, Two Guvnors, written by Richard Bean and directed at Vienna Theatre Company by Eric Storck, is aggressively funny stuff. Played as big as possible, each character pays homage to Commedia dell’arte while still keeping the plot moving right along.
If you’ve seen Carlo Goldoni’s 1700s comedy The Servant of Two Masters (the play this is sort of based on) you’re already somewhat familiar with the plot. The play begins with everyone gathered to celebrate the engagement of Pauline Clench (Gabrielle Grant) and Alan Dangle (Ryan Harrison Lee). What seems like a happy evening is halted when Francis Henshall (Brian David Clarke) arrives unexpectedly and declares that he works for Roscoe Crabbe (Elizabeth LeBoo), the recently deceased ex-fiancé to Pauline. Except, Roscoe doesn’t seem to be dead. Harry Dangle (Steve Rosenthal), Lloyd Boateng (Charles Boone), and Charlie’s bookkeeper, Dolly (Brittney Stane) all react in bewilderment as Roscoe joins the party himself to remind Pauline’s father Charlie (Jay E. Reiner) that he owes him money and demand that he pay up. Something doesn’t seem quite right with Roscoe, and the audience quickly finds out that Roscoe is dead, and his twin, Rachel, is pretending to be him for money to flee with her boyfriend/Roscoe’s killer, Stanley Stubbers (Blake Gouhari) to Australia. Henshall later finds himself in the employ of both Roscoe Crabbe and Stanley Stubbers, unbeknownst to either of them. Of course, chaos ensues.
Eric Storck did a phenomenal job immersing the audience into the story. As soon as I entered the auditorium I was greeted by a live band called The Brighton Boys (which consists of many musicians and may change from night to night: Tom Breen, Rhett Russell, Jim Russell, Robert Carr, John Graham, Peter Rafle, Blake Simkins, Keith Stafford, Bruce Wyman) playing upbeat rock music. The band played well throughout the evening, including during scene changes. The audience was encouraged to get up and dance during the preshow and because the band was so animated, many obliged.
Most of the actors mingled with the audience in character before the show, giving a little bit of insight into what was in store. My favorite people to watch during the preshow were Gertie (Lisa Mackem) and Alfie (Steve Palkovitz) who both had a lot of fun dancing around to the band. Later, they added a lot of great physical acting moments during one of the most chaotic scenes.
Gouhari and LeBoo play the “two guvnors” and have amazing stage presence. Gouhari has a fantastically expressive face and delivers lines with amazing deadpan. LeBoo played two characters- Rachel Crabbe, and Rachel-pretending-to-be her dead (not identical!) twin brother Roscoe. With two unique voices and mannerisms, LeBoo did a great job differentiating between the two characters.
Boone, Rosenthal, and Reiner all play father figures to different characters (Boone’s Lloyd often remarks that Rachel is like a daughter to him) in very different ways. In a show with highly comedic and physical acting, having strong actors to keep things tethered is key.
As the seemingly star-crossed lovers of the play, Grant and Lee are fantastic together, but do their best work apart. At first, Grant plays Pauline as bubbly and a little bit empty-minded. Later, her exasperation at still having to marry Roscoe is one of the funniest points of the evening. Lee makes sure that he plays Alan (a would-be actor) as melodramatic and farcically over-the-top as a would-be actor ought to be. Even playing such a large character, Lee kept Alan’s emotions grounded and realistic.
The two stand-out performances of the evening are Brian David Clarke and Brittney Stane. In a play with strong Commedia ties, Clarke plays the Harlequin character. He is hilarious, with strong movement and perfect comedic timing. Clarke breaks the fourth wall to pieces and brings audience members onstage, adlibbing expertly throughout the night, all while using a spot-on accent. His one-man fistfight (choreographed by James Campanella) is particularly well-executed. As Henshall’s love interest, Stane is incredibly flirty, sassy, and highly physical. Stane played Dolly as trollopy but also fiercely feminist; her fake tantrum about the woes of being a woman was a highlight of the play.
If audience interaction, slapstick, absurdity, and great music are things you enjoy, One Man, Two Guvnors is the show for you!
Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.