Reston Community Players Lend Me A TenorBy Bob Ashby • Jan 23rd, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Reston Community Players
Reston Community Center, Reston, VA
Through February 4th
2:25 with one intermission
$18/$15 Seniors and Juniors
Reviewed January 20th, 2012
What is it about Ohio? It seems that when playwrights want to place someone relatively worldly and cosmopolitan in a provincial backwater, for sake of comic contrast, they fixate on the Buckeye State. Sheridan Whiteside goes to Mesalia, Ohio, in The Man Who Came to Dinner. Conrad Birdie bids farewell to civilian life in Sweet Apple, Ohio, in Bye Bye Birdie. In Ken Ludwig’s farce Lend Me A Tenor, now playing at Reston Community Players, Italian opera singer Tito Merelli plays a one-night stand to remember in Cleveland.
Trouble is, Merelli (Kevin Gunn), a sweetly egotistical collection of appetites, conks out from a double dose of sleeping medication and cannot be roused in time for the evening’s performance of Verdi’s Otello. In steps Max (Ryan Manning), insecure opera company gofer, who just happens to know the score by heart. By Act 2, two Otellos, in full regalia, are flitting in and out of the set, having rapid-fire encounters, full of misunderstandings, with eager ingénue Maggie (Evie Korovesis), sexpot soprano Diana (Ashleigh de la Torre Muldoon), self-important opera company leaders Saunders and Julia (Buz Gibson and Marianne Meyers, respectively) and Merelli’s justifiably jealous wife Maria (Jennifer Lambert). The group’s energy never flags.
The premise of Director Sam Nystrom’s approach to the show appears to be that if frenetic is funny, mega-frenetic is mega-funny. It isn’t. One of the keys to successful comedy is that characters should never know that they are funny. They must take themselves and their situations seriously; the humor comes from the absurdity of the situations and the characters’ reactions to them. When, as happens repeatedly in this production, actors are visibly trying so hard to add extra toppings of physical and vocal gingerbread to their portrayals, almost as if to shout “Look at me, my character is being outrageously funny here,” some of the comic potential gets lost. Manning is the most notable example of this tendency, though Korovesis and Meyers are not far behind.
One reason for the temptation to push the comedy in this way may be that, particularly in the first act, Ludwig’s script is not as amusing as it wants to be. There are some sharp lines scattered through the act, but the material is noticeably thin in places. Things get better in the second act, particularly in a well-written scene of mistaken assumptions and double entendres between Diana and Tito, all the funnier for being played relatively straight.
Within the limitations that the production’s choices impose, all the actors execute their business with great skill and excellent timing. Gunn, who gets to be an almost-straight man at times, and Lambert are particularly convincing. Special mention should be made of Joey Wilson, who strikes a nearly perfect tone, with some lovely reactions, in the small role of the bellhop.
This being farce, there must be doors. The single set for the production has five, and they make a satisfactory sound when being closed. The blocking and mechanics of what Nystrom calls the “Rube Goldberg machine” of the play are handled flawlessly, and the cast members make their often-quick entrances and exits through the doors with the requisite precision. This is never more evident than during the curtain call, a brief high-speed recap of the plot that sets the doors practically flying.
When I was 5 years old, my favorite television program was The Benny Hill Show. I have no idea how I first found out about it (thank you Public Broadcasting Service) and though the ribald sex jokes went right over my head, even a 5 year old can see the humor in a fat man in a dress getting smacked in the face by a board. “It’s not sophisticated humor” some might say. “It’s low brow.” That may be true, but Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor shows that this type of “low brow” farcical humor is actually highly technical and incredibly difficult to pull off. There are so many moving parts and people who have to be in just the right spot at the right moment for the joke to work. Much like the board game Mousetrap (another childhood favorite), this Rube Goldberg machine of a play is much more complex than it seems at first glance: just keeping track of who needs to come through which door with which prop and which costume is its own special challenge. Add to that the setting of an Opera company, one of the “high brow” art forms and you have a mixture of sex, sophistication, and clowning that can’t help but lead to a boisterous climax. Thanks to Ludwig’s careful plotting, the ridiculous situations play out with a remarkable degree of sense and coherency. The stakes are high but you have no doubt that everything will work out for the best. The cast and crew has had a marvelous time putting this show together for you, and while you’ll hear Verdi’s Don Carlo rather than Benny Hill’s “Yakety Sax” theme song in this performance, I hope you’ll still manage to have a laugh or two. Please enjoy.
Photos provided by Reston Community Players
- Max: Ryan Manning
- Maggie: Evie Korovesis
- Saunders: Buz Gibson
- Tito Merilli: Kevin Gunn
- Maria Merilli: Jennifer Lambert
- Bellhop: Joey Wilson
- Diana: Ashleigh de la Torre Muldoon
- Julia: Marianne Meyers
- Producer: Jennifer Lambert
- Director: Sam Nystrom
- Stage Manager: Laura Baughman
- Assistant Stage Manager: Michael O’Connor
- Set Designer: Bea Morse
- Set Decoration: Bea and Jerry Morse
- Costume Designer: Irene Molnar
- Hair/Makeup: Sue Pinkman
- Property Acquisition: Mary Jo Ford
- Master Carpenter: Sara Birkhead
- Light Designer: Adam Konowe
- Master Electrician: Ian Claar
- Sound Designer: Rich Claar
- Set Painting: Cathy Rieder, Bea & Jerry Morse, Jen Lambert, Joshua Redford, Marianne Meyers, Joey Wilson, Ashleigh de la Torre Muldoon, Buz Gibson
- Set Construction: Skip Larson, Larry Sadler, Tim Hinton, David Johnson,
- Scott & Patricia Birkhead, Joshua Redford
- Running/Props Crew: Elizabeth Garcia, Thomas Huntley
- Stage Combat Choreography Sam Nystrom
- Photography: Joe Douglass
- Publicity: Lori Knickerbocker
- House Management: Daryl Hoffman
- Playbill Design/Production: Ginger Kohles
Disclaimer: Reston Community Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. RCP also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio.net web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7566.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.