Based upon a zany Italian farce*, One Man, Two Guvnors is a bold choice for Raleigh Little Theatre. We think that director Rod Rich hits a home run with it.
As the title suggests, the play is set in England, with British accents all around. It’s set in Brighton in 1963 to be exact — a time of bold patterns, beehive hairdos, and emerging women’s lib. But the story is a send-up of that time, and the audience is in on the joke. One Man, Two Guvnors is Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, and Vaudeville all rolled into one.
The set is a riot of psychedelic wallpaper that clashes loudly with the actors’ polyester suits, so we know from the get-go that we are in for a wild ride. Kudos to scenic designer Thomas Mauney and costume designer Jenny Mitchell for setting the stage (pun intended). It’s perfect for the broad comedy that follows.
With choreography by Nancy Rich, lights by Elizabeth Grimes-Droessler, and sound by Todd Houseknecht, the production treated us to a highly polished gem of wacky entertainment.
The action swirls around Francis Henshall (played superbly by Jesse R. Gephart), a manservant who has taken employment with two “guv-nahs” as it were, trying to get both jobs done and bungling them hysterically along the way. Francis is motivated by a hunger for a meal, and a hunger for a girl. He has taken a fancy to Dolly (played by the gorgeous Diana Cameron McQueen), who works for one of his employers.
Dolly also fancies Francis, quipping, “I know exactly what he is after. And if he carries on like this, he’s going to get it.”
Francis’ two governors are both shady characters, involved in their own drama, including cases of mistaken identity, murder, love, and lawyers. From the start, Francis is working for gangster Roscoe Crabbe. But wait! Roscoe is dead; and he is being impersonated by his sister Rachel, played with bravado and testosterone-ish swagger by Kirsten Elhert.
“Roscoe,” however, only pays Francis by the week; and Francis is hungry today, so he accepts an offer to work for Stanley Stubbers (Scott Nagel), the man who killed Roscoe. Stanley and Rachel are in love, but neither is aware that the other is in town. Are you with us so far?
In truth, we must admit that the plot is so convoluted that it is hard to follow; but, trust us, the plot is hardly the point. It is only a thin frame that allows the zany jokes and silliness to shine. And, oh boy, do they shine! There was a zinger at every turn.
Pratfalls, silliness, skewers, tongue-twisters, dropped-pants, and bawdy physical comedy reminiscent of both vaudeville and Groucho Marx abound. In fact, the audience was so engaged with the action that they would yell lines, and Francis would seamlessly incorporate them into the bit onstage. It was a thrilling bit of improv, each time giving the audience a fresh surprise.
Along the way, we meet such oddball characters as Alan Dangle (Gus Allen), an actor wannabe with a flair for the overly dramatic; and his air-headed fiancée, Pauline (Amy White). We also meet poor Alfie (Dustin K. Britt), an ancient waiter who, despite his slowness and frailty, somehow survives the onslaught of slaps, knocks, and tumbles that come his way. It is a small miracle that he makes it to curtain call. And we laugh with him all the way.
The cast is expertly rounded out by Ron Mitchell, Tony Hefner, Warren Keyes, and C. Aaron Alderman.
As the ring leader, grinning ear-to-ear, Francis Henshall keeps this circus of fun moving right along. The improvisational skills that Jesse Gephart brings to the role of Francis are truly astounding. He routinely breaks the Fourth Wall and involves the audience in the fun, asking questions and having audience members come up onstage to help him with certain tasks, sometimes to their chagrin.
We can’t ignore the live music either. What a treat! The Skiffle Band — comprised of music director Craig Johnson on keyboard, Keith Lewis on bass, Jordan Hubbard on guitar, and Timothy Wall on percussion — had our toes tapping at every scene change. And members of the cast would sing and shimmy alongside them during these musical interludes between the scenes. A few of the characters also made cameo appearances to play other musical instruments.
In truth, this show is the most refreshing and bold piece of theater that we have seen in years. We laughed so hard at some points that we had tears in our eyes. It’s a show that is hard to explain. Go experience it for yourself. Trust us. It’s a laugh riot.
*From The Egghead Department:
English playwright Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors, which includes songs by Grant Olding, is an English adaptation of a 1743 Italian play by Carlo Goldoni: Servant of Two Masters (Il Servitore di Due Padroni), which was written in the centuries-old Italian style of commedia dell’arte.
The role of Francis Henshall follows the tradition of the Harlequin character of this style. The role is also reminiscent of the “wily servant” in ancient Roman comedy (think Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). And the role shares attributes of the Vice character in medieval English Morality Plays.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article131955869.html; Feb. 8th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/one-man-two-guvnors/Event?oid=5101669; and Feb. 6th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com interview with actor Jesse R. Gephart, conducted by Lena Tillett: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/video/16509036/.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS at 8 p.m. Feb. 16-18, 3 p.m. Feb. 19, 8 p.m. Feb. 23-25, and p.m. Feb. 26 in RLT‘s Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $27 ($23 students and seniors 62+).
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.
SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/16-17/guvnors.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/417061888633419/. 2016-17 SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/tickets/memberships.html.
PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows. RLT has also installed a hearing loop in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19th, performance.
One Man, Two Guvnors (2011 West End and 2012 Broadway comedy): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4690 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/one-man-two-guvnors-491199 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Man,_Two_Guvnors (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.lyricstage.com/uploads/buzz/1M2Gdramaturgy.pdf (The Lyric Stage in Boston, MA).
Richard Bean (English playwright): http://www.unitedagents.co.uk/richard-bean (United Agents bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/richard-bean-491202 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Bean (Wikipedia).
Rod Rich (director): https://www.facebook.com/rod.rich.33 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.