Just give in already. With a charming hero, lechery and vice on parade, a cross-dressing femme fatale, and comic timing to beat the precision of any Swiss watch, One Man, Two Guvnors at Maryland Ensemble Theatre is the Queen’s beans.
What better way to escape for a few hours than to take a holiday to the English resort town of Brighton on a time trip to pre-Beatles 1963? Especially in the company of the finest assortment of “lairy” gents, “wankers,” and “birds” you will find. If you are not up on the retro-lingo and are unaware that “lairy” means earthy, “wanker” is an objectionable person, and “bird” refers to a fetching lass, have no fear; a handy glossary is provided.
But who needs an index when such a game company of farceurs is on the loose? The company assembled for this production, under the skillful direction of Tad Janes, mines just about every laugh imaginable out of Richard Bean’s crackling script, led by the affable Thomas Scholtes as Francis Henshall. Henshall schemes to work for two different gentlemen (“guvnors”) without the other being any the wiser. His first boss is the sadistic underworld figure Roscoe Crabbe, recently deceased at the hands of his twin sister’s posh boyfriend Stanley Stubbers – played with locked jaw precision by Todd Mazzie. Roscoe was to be married to the daft but attractive Pauline Clench (Shea-Mikal Green), an arranged marriage that would have made an advantageous alliance for her dad Charlie Clench (Bob Herbertson), scrap metal baron of Brighton. With Roscoe out of the picture, Pauline is free to marry her true love, the melodramatic would-be actor, Lloyd Dangle – pitch-perfect and versatile Matthew Baughman. Things take too many other turns to describe when Roscoe arrives in Brighton with Francis to reclaim his fiancé.
Bean took the plot of One Man, Two Guvnors from the 18th century comedy by Carlo Goldoni, The Servant of Two Masters. Based on the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte, Goldoni’s play put into script form what audiences had seen performed by traveling troupes throughout Europe. Richard Bean took the same template and transferred the action to swinging, working class Britain in the early 60s. Either way, Goldoni or Bean came up with a happy balance of witty word play, ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ humor, and plenty of door slamming shenanigans.
Director Tad Janes has assembled one of the finest comic ensembles I have seen in a long while. From Scholtes and Baughman chewing scenery and using the debris as toothpicks, their scenes together are gold-plated, especially when Baughman switches to play Alfie, an aged, slow-moving bus boy, while Francis is trying valiantly to literally serve his two masters, the upper crusty Stanley and his formerly deceased guvnor, Roscoe – played with gender-bending aplomb by Jenna Rossman.
Add to the aforementioned actors, Isabel Duarte as Dolly, the liberated sexpot; Matthew Bannister, as the blustery solicitor Harry Dangle; and last but not least Matt Lee as innkeeper Lloyd who turns one phrase into a gold mine. Lloyd, still smarting from his criminal past and time behind bars, utters the phrase “Brixton prison” numerous times, each time combining a sense of glee with a withering leer. I shall call it a gleer. No matter what you call it, Lee, along with the rest of the company, turn in masterful performances that are not to be missed.
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS
September 11 – October 4
Maryland Ensemble Theatre
31 W Patrick St
Frederick, VA 21701
2 hours, 45 minutes with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
The play runs like a well-oiled machine on the verge of a chaotic collapse, the perfect tone for the four act romp – cross-dressing sisters, delicious displays of physical comedy, audience participation – which incorporates situation comedy, music hall, stand-up, pantomime, and old-fashioned amateur night frolic. During scene changes, members of the cast are joined by musical director Thom Huenger for delightful pastiche songs that evoke not only early Fab Four hits but British skiffle-band songs. Speaking of scene changes, the multiple sets work beautifully together as a Rubik’s Cube puzzle like none I have ever seen in MET’s intimate performance venue.
My guess is, once word gets out, One Man, Two Guvnors at Maryland Ensemble Theatre will be a sell-out, and deservedly so. As the cast sings in the finale, tomorrow looks good from here, my friend, especially if you have a ticket to see this show.
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean . Adapted from The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni . With Music by Grant Olding . Directed by Tad Janes . Featuring Matthew Bannister, Matt Baughman, Isabel Duarte, Shea-Mikal Green, Bob Herbertson, Matt Lee, Todd Mazzie, Jenna Rossman and Thomas Scholtes . Music Director: Thom Huenger . Musicians: Thom Huenger and Laura Ann Walling . Set Design: Eric Berninghausen . Lighting Design: Giovanni Kavota . Sound Design: Doug Grove . Costume Design: Diana Wright . Stage Manager: Amanda Williams . Produced by Maryland Ensemble Theatre . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.