ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS – Written by Richard Bean; Directed by Tim Orr. Produced by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (Roe Green Theatre, CU campus, Boulder) through August 13th. Tickets available at 303-492-8008 or coloradoshakes.org.
Much is made of the fact that TWO GUVS is a modern version of a play written by Goldoni in 1743. Goldoni was one of the first to write for the emerging middle class of his time. Instead of the stylized comedy of manners more familiar during that era, Goldoni’s characters are everyday people who are aware of the differences in social status but usually ignore it. At the request of actor Antonio Sacco, Goldoni wrote the script for THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS to highlight the actor’s comic abilities by creating the character of Truffaldino, then putting him in awkward situations and letting him improvise his way out. Richard Bean took the same basic plot in 2011 and whirled it in a blender to create the crazy convoluted chaos that become the story of Frances. This part will forever be associated with James Corden who originated it in the original National Theatre production and later travelled with the show to Broadway where he won a Tony.
Matthew Schneck fills the character’s big shoes in the current production by the indoor company of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. He embraces the chaos, engages the audience in his shenanigans, and honestly tries his hardest to find food to eat and a way to get Dolly to go to Majorca with him. While those are his main goals, keeping his dual employers separated, keeping their errands straight, and keeping their money and letters in the right pocket also occupy his time. All of this is attempted with nonstop patter, double takes, spit takes, audience participation, improvisation, and every other comic gimmick known to man. His genuine sense of having fun with a “balls to the wall” kind of energy makes it a joyful evening for his audience.
Schneck is ably supported by his cast mates in making sense and coherence out of this wildly convoluted script that asks the audience to forget spending time trying to figure it all out, just enjoy what’s happening. Emily Van Fleet plays both Rachel Crabbe and her dead brother Roscoe in an attempt to get money owed to her brother from mid-level gangsters. Noella Antweiler as Pauline Clench was supposed to marry Roscoe and is more than delighted that he is dead, and the engagement is off. Now she can marry Alan Dangle, a would-be actor whose idea of acting is striking poses and looking wistfully into the distance. Christian Ray Robinson gets a well-deserved laugh every time he goes into “actor” mode. Pauline’s father, Charlie “The Duck,” is the one who owes the money to the dead Roscoe and doesn’t really care who his daughter marries. The always brilliant Leslie O’Carroll plays The Duck with startling reality. The other characters move in and out of the plot and the scene with speed and purpose – even if you don’t always know what the purpose is.
The scenes are enhanced by the music of a three-man skiffle band who open the show and play between segments. Skiffle bands were prominent in the early 1900’s and grew out of rent parties where people used anything handy as an improvised musical instrument and did their own versions of popular songs. The tradition died out but was brought back to life in the 50’s and 60’s during the early performances of entertainers like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and David Bowie. It consists of a mix of folksy, bluesy, rockabilly and patter music made most famous by Lonnie Donegan in England. The music performed by Josh Innerst, Brian Bohlender and Dave Willey gets your toes tapping and your hands clapping.
What a treat it is to see both shows performed by this group of talented actors with such versatility that they can tackle both the high drama of A WINTER’S TALE and the low comedy of TWO GUVS. For instance, our skiffle musician Innerst has the role of Leontes, the King of Sicilia, who orders the death of his baby daughter and the imprisonment of his wife in WINTER’S TALE. Matthew Schneck who expends such energy and wit as Frances in TWO GUVS has a minor role as Camillo charged with the killing of Leontes unwanted baby in WINTER’S TALE. The whole company of actors slides into their roles in both casts with equal ease and grace.
The original production of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS was hailed as “the feel good hit of the summer.” I second that emotion.
A WOW factor of 9!!