Dismay for Captain Spaulding, the African explorer. The show he’s in’s a snorer. Dismay, dismay, dismay!
Poor Captain Spaulding (Bruce Randolph Nelson)—a role immortalized by the original rude boy, Groucho Marx—the other Marx Brothers Chico (Jonathan Brody) and Harpo (Brad Aldous) and any other hard-working performer lashed to this airless and laughs-challenged rendition of the stage and screen comedy classic Animal Crackers.
The 1923 comedy folds the baggy-pants antics of the Marx Brothers around a wispy plot concerning a swanky Long Island manor, art forgeries, pretentious and deceptive houseguests, love affairs and all sorts of chicanery. A nifty little orchestra is nestled among the palm fronts and Art Deco trappings of Neil Patel’s set—as ritzy as a flapper’s beaded handbag.
As directed by BJ Jones, with notable disregard for the breakneck pace and madcap joie de vivre usually associated with Marx Brothers-brand zaniness, Animal Crackers is utterly devoid of timing—unless you count the experience of feeling your life ticking away while watching stuffed birds fall from the ceiling and listening to groaners that Aristophanes might have dismissed as too stale accompanied by the honk of a horn.
Slo-mo just doesn’t work for slapstick comedy. You want it to be breathless and racy, not a Zen meditation on the elements of vaudeville style. Most everything in Animal Crackers is at least a beat or two off, so instead being funny, the show breaks it all down into elements that are meant to be funny.
Big difference. So instead of laughing along with the physical humor and zippy one-liners, you swear you can see the actors counting the steps in their heads–:”One, two—lift my leg onto pretty woman’s leg. She screams. I lift leg again.” Or “Say line. Look at audience. Make eyes round as dinner plates.”
Closes October 13, 2013
700 North Calvert Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
2 hours, 10 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $19 – $64
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Detail and tickets
No such unhinged preciseness here. Everything marches out one bit after another and even the winsome song-and-dance duets “Three Little Words” and “Watching the Clouds Roll By—while deftly performed by Dina DiCostanzo, John Scherer, Sean Montgomery and Erin Kommor—just seems like people going through the motions of being light and frothy rather than conveying the sweetly goofy logic of a novelty ditty.
Rarely does the show spring to something spontaneous and funny and that’s when the actors break character and ad lib shamelessly to the audience. In Act 2, Mr. Nelson and Catherine Smitko—playing the dour doyenne Mrs. Rittenhouse—unshackle themselves from the lugubrious in the slapstick pas de deux “Show Me a Rose,” where they acrobatically and hilariously somersault over divans and flat-footedly tango while mimicking the moves of torrid romance.
Otherwise, Animal Crackers has as much fizz as a bottle of seltzer left over from Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour.
Animal Crackers . Book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind . Music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby . Adapted by Henry Wishcamper . Original orchestrations by Doug Peck . Directed by BJ Jones . Featuring Bruce R. Nelson, Brad Aldous, Jonathan Brody, Sean
Montgomery, Sean Blake, Dina DiCostanzo, John Scherer and Catherine Smitko. Produced by CenterStage . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.