Charming con artist and ne’er-do-well, Francis Henshall, takes a job as a minder (bodyguard) for a gangster just so he can eat regularly. When he sees an opportunity to further line his pockets, he takes a job with a second criminal and now needs to keep both from finding out he works for the other. This is One Man, Two Guvnors” by Richard Bean with songs by Grant Olding and based off Carlos Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters. It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Trust me, this story is far more complicated than this simple synopsis as farce always is and this play contains all of the elements for a truly great farce. You’ve got the mistaken identities, gender swapping, pratfalls, slamming doors, constant plot twists, and then everything is tidily resolved at the end of the show. Bean does good work updating Goldoni’s story for a more modern era as it is set in the late 1960s. But he also manages to retain the flavor of the original with characters making constant asides to reveal their true thoughts and motivations. He still manages to make it his own with some out of the box fourth wall breaks and the need for his performers to indulge in a bit of improvisation.
Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek, one of Omaha’s finest comedic talents, helms this production and he is clearly in his element guiding this clownish tale. He’s definitely got a good eye for a gag and comes up with some real doozies when it comes to pratfalls and some that are tastefully crass such as when Francis tries to woo a woman with a rose. His cast has some strong comedic chops and knows how to deliver a punchline and he uses some truly unique staging such as the use of a skiffle band (Colin Duckworth, Paige Cotignola, Susan Hendrick, and Adam Sherrerd) to warm up the audience and cover scene changes with some fun and rollicking tunes.
Some of Omaha’s best and brightest grace this production, but there are some truly standout performances from Bill Hutson as a feeble and deaf waiter; Marcus Benzel whose expressions and animated movements really bolster his scenes; and John Shaw as Alan Dangle, a wannabe actor who always speaks in an overexaggerated, theatrical style.
Steve Krambeck gives an energetic performance as Francis Henshall. Krambeck certainly has his work cut out for him as he has to add a sense of likability to an unlikable person and he does so admirably. Krambeck oozes the charm crucial for a con artist and handles the physicality of farce quite well as his character takes quite a beating throughout the night. But he also shows himself as having a good grip on improvisation as he often repartees with the audience and once even had me believing he had broken character during one of these interactions as his delivery of the joke was so subtle and smooth.
It is certainly an exhausting performance as Krambeck runs, flops, dances, charms, xylophones, and sings his way into your heart.
Cathy Hirsch is sterling in her performance as Rachel Crabbe. Most impressive is that Ms Hirsch spends most of the show disguised as her character’s twin brother, Roscoe, a thug whose death prior to the show is the catalyst for everything that goes down. Ms Hirsch’s portrayal of Rachel as Roscoe is quite convincing as her bearing, speech patterns, and walking make her a very believable man. This also allows for a great change in dynamic when she drops the façade to be the truly feminine Rachel.
Chris Shonka is a gentlemanly brute as Stanley Stubbers. Beneath his elegant manners beats the heart of a fiend as he’s a killer on the run who doles out violence when angered, has a penchant for sadism, and seems to have a rather deviant appetite for virgins. Shonka does so well with the excellent manners that one tends to forget just how rotten he truly is until your brain has a chance to process some of the heinous things he’s saying.
Matthew Hamel definitely has a set for the times as the colors of his buildings really reflect the psychedelic 60s. His buildings and scenes have the flavor of a seaside town and I rather liked his elegant dining room with its grand wooden walls towards the end of Act I. John Giblilisco’s sounds added to the ambiance of the show with the lolling of waves, the popping of champagne corks, and the splash of bodies hitting the water. Lindsay Pape’s costumes epitomize the swinging 60s with their bright, loud colors, especially the tweeds of Francis. Adam Sherrerd does excellent work with the musical direction of the night’s numbers as well as being in fine fettle on lead vocals.
The show could definitely benefit from a few tweaks. The energy of a farce needs to be akin to a runaway train once it gets going and the pace of the first act dragged. The accents were uneven among the cast and some of the pratfalls and violence were a bit overly controlled. On the other hand, comedy, especially farce, really needs the juice of a live audience to energize the performers and the loud laughs I heard tonight gives me confidence that this show is going to get its necessary fuel.
One Man, Two Guvnors plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 5. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $24, with ticket prices varying by performance and seating zone. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com. Due to some of the risqué humor, this show isn’t recommended for young children. The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.