A Frantic Farce in West Hartford
WEST HARTFORD — I’m late to the pleasures of Playhouse on Park, a relatively new professional theatre company now celebrating five years in West Hartford. With its cozy ambience, welcoming staff and intimate stage (there truly isn’t a bad seat in the house), Playhouse on Park is a welcome addition to the busy Connecticut theatre scene. They are currently in production with a revival of Ken Ludwig’s middling farce, “Lend Me A Tenor,” which is leaving ‘em laughing in West Hartford.
Set in a Cleveland hotel in the 1930s, “Lend Me a Tenor” concerns a local opera company that is sponsoring the appearance of world famous Italian superstar Tito Merelli (a terrific Robert Wilde). Tito arrives with a jealous wife in tow (Ashley Ford, priceless) and a marriage clearly on the rocks. Add into the mix a sexy soprano, a scheming impresario, his opera-loving assistant, a grand society matron and a pushy bellhop, and the elements of classic farce take hold. Or do they? Unlike “Noises Off,” of which all contemporary farces have the misfortune of now being compared, “Lend Me A Tenor” is funny only in fits and starts. The basic premise of two opera singers in black face and fright wigs (the opera being performed is “Otello”) who are mistaken for one another by all the wrong people, never really delivers the full comic punch it promises.
There are hard working actors on the Playhouse stage and sometimes that effort shows as they push for laughs that aren’t there. For the most part, however, director Jerry Winters has assembled a personable and energetic cast. Mike Boland is dynamic and all apocalyptic fury as the opera impresario slowing coming to the end of his rope and Jeff Gonzalez is sweetly engaging as his assistant, Max, a wanna-be opera singer who bonds with Tito and finds his self-assurance in the process. Mr. Wilde is just splendid as the hot-tempered tenor never funnier than when his sexy co-star (a slinky Katie Vincent) confuses him with a misunderstood sexual history. Both Gonzalez and Wilde also have great singing voices which give them instant credibility as opera performers. Lilly Wilton is warmly likable as Max’s maybe-girlfriend but Donna Schilke misses the mark as a society matron obviously patterned after Margaret Dumont. Corrado Alicata’s antic bellhop is also forced and unfunny here.
Set Designer Christopher Hoyt delivers a functional hotel setting with a number of working doors that can be handily slammed with conviction. The furnishings work fine but something must be done about the ringer used for the period phone as it is never convincing. Costumer Erin Kacmarcik’s elegant gowns for the ladies are highlights and she also finds appropriate undergarments for the required “scantily-clad” section of the farce. Director Winters has staged the final curtain call - a rousing rendition of the entire play done by the company in triple time - so well you wished there had been more evidence of that exhilaration throughout the play. Still, audience members were generally in stitches at the performance I caught and this “Tenor” is an agreeable enough outing to merit the trip to West Hartford.
“Lend Me A Tenor” continues at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road in West Hartford through February 9th. For further information call the theatre box office at 860.523.5900 X10 or visit: www.playhouseonpark.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.