The last time I saw “Over the Moon” it was called “Moon Over Buffalo,” but under either title it’s durable farce that generates its biggest laughs after intermission. The New Theatre production, which I caught at a Sunday matinee, is nicely staged by Dennis D. Hennessy, although it took awhile for the show to begin firing on all cylinders.
Ken Ludwig has crafted an affectionate send-up of theatrical egos in this tidy little period piece about a stage couple — George and Charlotte Hay (Hal Linden and Carmen Roman) — who are on tour with an unlikely pairing of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” and Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” performed in repertory.
At a stop in Buffalo a number of plot threads come to a head. George and Charlotte’s daughter Rosalind (Cheryl Weaver) has given up the stage to lead a “normal” life and has arrived to introduce her fiance, a nerdy weather broadcaster named Howard (Charles Fugate).
Also in the mix are Paul (Seth Macchi), the company manager and Rosalind’s ex, and Eileen (Ashley Pankow), a young wide-eyed actress with whom George has shared a one-night stand that he now regrets. Charlotte’s nearly deaf mother, Ethel (Lois Markle), is a source of humor. Charlotte, meanwhile, is being pursued by Richard Maynard (John Rensenhouse), a lawyer who believes he can make her happy.
Set in the green room of an old theater, here’s all you really need to know: The set is full of doors. Some lead to the backstage area, one leads to the street and one leads to a utility closet. As the action becomes more frenetic, the traffic through each door increases and much of the viewing pleasure is in the split-second timing employed by the actors.
The antic humor kicks in during the second act. George, distraught that Charlotte will leave him and that he’s been passed over for a Hollywood film, gets roaring drunk. Confusion about which show — “Cyrano” or “Private Lives” — is on the schedule for that night’s performance leads to some sublime comedy.
A running joke about whether Frank Capra is in the audience to consider the Hays for a movie is amusing, especially when everyone mistakes Howard the weatherman for Capra.
Linden anchors the show with a refined sense of comic timing and a convincing sense of Shakespearean bombast. Roman, who joined the show late in rehearsals, is the picture of poise and exhibits consummate timing. Weaver is at her best when Rosalind is forced to step into the role of Sybil in “Private Lives” and is forced to ad lib as she waits for the missing-in-action George to make his entrance as Elyot. When he does appear, of course, the drunken George is costumed as Cyrano.
Markle, a Broadway veteran making her New Theatre debut, is vivid, concise and very funny as Ethel. Her performance looks effortless but it’s all about physical precision and great timing.
Fugate has a good time in the ridiculous role of Howard and fits comfortably into the ensemble. And Pankow, luminous and charismatic, is amusing as the ingenue who may be George’s undoing.
At this stage of its life, “Over the Moon” is twice removed from our present. When it was a new play in 1995, it recalled an era at the dawn of television. But from our current perspective, of course, the ’90s seem like an increasingly distant era.
At the Sunday matinee I happened to be seated next to a table occupied by four 20-somethings, who seemed to enjoy the show. I had to wonder if references to stars like Ronald Colman and directors like Capra must have sounded like names from ancient history to them.
I’m not sure it matters. A worthy farce takes on a life of its own once it gets going. And the humor usually proves to be infectious.
“Over the Moon” runs through April 24 at the New Theatre, 9229 Foster, Overland Park. Call 913-649-7469 or go to www.newtheatre.org.