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Rick Pierson as George Hay, Travis Mitchell as Howard, and Brenda Edwards as Charlotte Hay in the Rogers Little Theater production of Moon Over Buffalo

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‘Moon’ Full of Laughs Over Rogers Little Theatre

‘Moon’ Full of Laughs Over Rogers Little Theatre
Ludwig Comedy Promises More of a Good Thing

By Becca Bacon Martin
The Morning News, Springdale, AR

“Moon Over Buffalo” won’t have director Ed McClure doing cartwheels down Walnut Street — a feat he promises to attempt should playwright Ken Ludwig ever show up for a Rogers Little Theater production.

However, Ludwig, who broke onto Broadway in 1989 with “Lend Me a Tenor,” keeps an eagle eye on his shows, wherever they may be. His Web site, www.kenludwig.com, includes not only a Morning News story about “Leading Ladies,” his last show at RLT, but photos from the production as well.

“Knowing the playwright is aware of the RLT production is much different than the playwright actually seeing the RLT production,” McClure says. “The former is nice, but it doesn’t really pressure me or the production.” The latter, McClure admits, might be a different story.
What McClure does know is that critics, audiences and actors alike love Ludwig’s comedies. USA Today reported that “‘Moon Over Buffalo’ packs more comic genius onto the stage than anything in recent memory,” and The New York Times called Ludwig “one of those rare contemporary playwrights who thinks in terms of old-fashioned knockabout farce, and that’s something to be cherished.”

In “Moon Over Buffalo,” George and Charlotte Hay, fading stars of the 1950s, are presenting “Private Lives” and “Cyrano De Bergerac” in rep in Buffalo, N.Y. They’re on the verge of a breakup caused by George’s dalliance with a young ingénue when they receive word that they might have one last shot at stardom: Frank Capra is coming to town to see their matinee, and if likes what he sees, he might cast them in his movie remake of “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
In the tradition of what Ludwig calls the “muscular comedies” of playwrights like William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, everything that could possibly go wrong does — made worse by a visit from their daughter’s clueless fiancé and hilarious uncertainty about which play they’re actually performing, largely caused by Charlotte’s deaf old stage-manager mother who hates every bone in George’s body.

Asked in a June interview about the absence of mean-spirited humor in his work, Ludwig was pleased by the question.

“The way producers tend to say it is my shows have a lot of heart,” he mused. “I write what I care about. I know that right now it’s very hip to be edgy, very hip to be mean-spirited. We live in difficult times.

“I don’t write about those things. They’re not part of my world. I write plays I would want to see, write about worlds I love and would want to live in. Sometimes that’s in fashion and sometimes it’s not, but you can’t worry about that. Write what’s important to you.”
So what makes Ludwig’s comedies so funny?

“He understands the appeal of certain comedic situations,” says Mary Jane Finley, who portrays Ethel, the leading lady’s mother, in the RLT show. “Ken updates classical themes and circumstances to showcase foibles in human nature which have not changed. He layers the details and the relationships so that even the most improbable situations appear to happen quite believably. And hilariously.”

“I think it’s because he creates realistic characters, with motivations that we all can relate to,” agrees John Honey, who plays Paul Singer, company manger for George and Charlotte’s traveling acting group. “Then he puts the characters in rather ridiculous situations, and lets them sort of play it out. He doesn’t give us time to think about the absurdity of the situation because things are happening so fast, and the characters are just being themselves.

“What’s funny, at least to me, is in the two Ludwig plays I’ve been in, they set up one or two crazy situations, then the characters try desperately to resolve them,” Honey adds. “And what’s even funnier in Ludwig plays at RLT is that Ed adds little comedy bits for each of us. It really adds a lot to it for the audience!”

Here, Finley and Honey talk about the play and their roles in it in a Morning News Q&A:

Q. Why did you want to do this show in particular?

Honey: Ken Ludwig plays remind me of “Seinfeld.” Ludwig is the Larry David of the stage, I think. When I read the script, I was laughing out loud every couple pages, so you know it’s going to be funny when it’s on stage.

Finley: The storyline in “Moon Over Buffalo” involves a repertory company on tour. As a young adult, I took part in a three-month USO tour as a member of a theatrical troupe which traveled between military bases in France, Germany and Belgium. Doing this show has brought back lots of memories.

Q. What’s the one moment in the play that audiences will never forget?

Finley: I think the audience will particularly enjoy the case of mistaken identity which leads to a high-energy romp about the stage.

Honey: The “Private Lives” scene is where the action so far leads up to. The lead actor, George Hay, is finally found, the other actors make it into costume at the last minute, and it’s time for the curtain to go up. Then it all goes wrong, despite the best efforts of the actors. The whole scene on the balcony is hilarious, and the part I think the audience will be laughing about most after the show.

Q. What brought you to the RLT stage this time?

Finley: I was bitten by the theater bug very early. My first appearance on stage was at the tender age of 4 1/2. I recited a piece titled “I’m Taking ’Spression Lessons.” I can still recite the first few lines. I cannot, however, repeat the soft-shoe routine I performed after that! Since then, I have been on the stage hundreds of times.

Honey: I was in the last Ken Ludwig play at RLT, “Leading Ladies.” Ed directed that too. It was so much fun, both for the cast and the audience. Ludwig just plays well, whether it’s on Broadway or community theater. It’s just really funny.

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