LEND ME A TENOR is ‘buffo’ at Ross Valley Players
( L to R) David Kester as Saunders, Robert Nelson as Max and Craig Christiansen as Tito “Il Stupendo cavort on Ken Rowland’s 5 door set in Ross Valley Players production of Lend Me a Tenor.
LEND ME A TENOR: Farce by Ken Ludwig. Directed by Kris Neely. Ross Valley Players, Barn Theater in the Marin Art & Garden Center at 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA. 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or go to www.rossvalleyplayers.com. September 14 – October 14, 2012
LEND ME A TENOR is ‘buffo’ at Ross Valley Players
Ross Valley Players (RVP) must be the envy of every non-equity theatre company in the Bay Area. Talented, attractive actors must flock to their auditions for them to consistently mount (with minor exceptions) shows that are audience pleasers of professional quality. They have done it again with Ken Ludwig’s old chestnut Lend Me a Tenor to open their 83rd (count them 83rd) season “as the oldest continuously producing theatre west of the Mississippi.” After its 1986 premiere in London it has been around the block (25 countries) with a 2010 Broadway revival that received multiple Tony nominations.
To this reviewer true farce must have at least four doors. RVP, actually Ludwig, ups the ante with five doors and one passageway. The brilliant stage designer Ken Rowland has created that magnificent set and the actors use every inch of stage and every door multiple times invoking double-takes by the actors and guffaws from the audience. Those guffaws from act one turn to raucous laughter in the sure fire action of act two making this show a not to be missed hit. All is not perfect but more about that later.
Then there is an ingenious farcical plot with broadly drawn characters, ridiculous story line, mistaken identity, double entendres, a love story gone awry and fast and furious physical activity. It is 1934 and all the action takes place in hotel suite with living room, bedroom, bath and closet with the aforementioned doors. This is to be the suite where the famous Italian opera singer Tito Merelli (Craig Christiansen) called “Il Stupendo” by his adoring fans is to be staying while in Cleveland. He is coming there to sing the lead in Otello as part of a gala fund raiser for the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. Grand Opera in Cleveland?
Awaiting him in the hotel room is Max (Robert Nelson) the nerdy gofer for the Opera Company and Maggie (Gwen Kingston) the object of his affections who just happens to be the daughter of Saunders (David Kester) the chief honcho of the Opera Company. She is there because she has a mad crush on Tito who briefly kissed her hand when they met in Milano years ago. Unbeknownst to her or anyone else is the unnamed female Bellhop (Amanda Grey) opera fan, a Tito Merelli groupie who is waiting, and wanting to accost, or at least take her picture with him.
Don’t quit yet there are more characters to come, two of whom have the hots for “Il Stupendo” and they will add to complications that ensue. There is the soprano opera singer Diana (Dylan Cooper) who feels that by seducing our intrepid tenor, who has a voracious sexual appetite, it will lead to her ascent to the Met. Poor Julia (Christina Jaqua) a member of the Opera Board will just have to stand in line for her turn for a romp in the hay with Tito.
Alas, Tito has a wife Maria (Laura Domigo) who is very upset that Tito has not approached her sexually for three whole weeks. Poor Tito, who arrives late and is not feeling well, needs a rest before the performance. Maria gives him a double dose of sedative and Max not knowing this spikes Tito’s wine with another double dose.
Before Tito goes to the land of nod, he bonds with Max who is a clandestine opera buff/singer. Tito gives Max lessons on breaking his tension and that will hold Max in good stead when he replaces Tito in the lead role. Alas, Maria has caught Maggie in the closet with her clothes partially off and in a pique writes a farewell note to our intrepid lothario Tito. With Tito unresponsive, that note is thought to be his suicide note and Saunders and Max devise a unconscionable plan to hide the facts in order that the show must go on. . . and the money does not have to be refunded.
By the time the second act arrives the doors have been put to great use but are get even more use with Max and Tito both in Otello costumes being seduced by three different women and confusion reigns. Maria returns and the question of who slept with whom becomes a problem because of mistaken identity. Never fear, it all gets resolved AND there is a 90 second “curtain call” to end all curtain calls that recreates all the shenanigans that have taken place in the previous hour and 45 minutes.
Christiansen is perfect as “Il Stupendo” and looks the part. Robert Nelson plays the nerd to the hilt and has a marvelous transformation after he stars in Otello. Gwen Kingston is gorgeous, seductive with great comic timing but would be more loveable in future productions if she becomes less shrill. Laura Domingo’s tantrums as the put upon Italian wife Marie could not be portrayed better. Gwen Kingston’s acting as the diva that will succeed by being good in bed has more than a touch of reality. Christina Jaqua will have to settle for being described as classy with her regal bearing, in a stunning in form fitting evening dress. Michael Berg’s costumes for the ladies are elegant and the Otello costumes rightfully hilarious. You will love Amanda Grey as the cutest bellhop you will ever see showing of her quaint blue and gold uniform as she stalks our hero Tito. David Kester, a mainstay at RVP, has a tendency to ‘emote’ and does so again in this farce but that may be a directorial conceit and the entire cast probably would be better served to turn down the decibels in their lines seeking variation rather than volume.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com