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Theater review: 'Moon Over Buffalo' brings madcap fun

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Paul (Paul Mullins, left) restrains George (Chip Addison) before he goes after Grandma Ethel (Lillian Alexander) in a scene from “Moon Over Buffalo” at Attic Productions.

Many a comic romp has launched with the notion (if not the actual words), “Hey, let’s put on a show!” The Bard himself used this dramatic convention, and so have modern day playwrights — including Ken Ludwig, whose “Moon Over Buffalo,” a play-within-a-play farce, is on stage for one more weekend at Attic Productions.

The year is 1953, and the golden age of television is putting unwelcome pressure on mom-and-pop outfits like the fictional Erlanger Theater in Buffalo, New York — a modest troupe treading the boards way off Broadway. But proprietors George and Charlotte Hay (Chip Addison and Christine Kimel) haven’t given up on getting that big break. All the action takes place on the day they get a call that Frank Capra might attend that evening’s show, with an eye toward casting George and Charlotte to replace the stars in his current movie project.

As the story opens, George and a handful of actors are rehearsing a scene from “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Soon enough, the curtain opens on the theater’s rumpled green room and we begin to meet more of the characters. Keeping the coffee pot perking is Ethel (Lillian Alexander), who is Charlotte’s mother, and grandmother to Rosalind (Keli Hobson), who has decided she’s done with theater life. In tow is her new fiancé, Howard (Jesse Womack), who is very nervous about meeting his future in-laws. Meanwhile, Rosalind’s former fiancé, Paul (Paul Mullins), is still there, toiling away behind the scenes.

There’s actually a second play within this play: Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” which the troupe is producing in repertory with “Cyrano.” Fans of that production (including your humble correspondent) will no doubt feel the similarities between George and Charlotte and Coward’s Elyot and Amanda — both couples whose volatile energy threatens to blow up their relationship, except that it also makes them strangely perfect for each other.

All of the actors do a splendid job with their roles. Kimel shines as a woman on the edge (in a role that Carol Burnett played on Broadway), and Addison does a star turn — particularly his boozy sequence in Act II — as a man whose life is unraveling by the minute. Womack gives Howard a mild-mannered nerdiness, yet still helps to drive some of the show’s nuttier situations.

Hobson makes for a sophisticated young woman on the move, but don’t let the business suit fool you — toward the end she has an outstanding scene trying to hold together the opening sequence for the doomed performance of “Private Lives.” Mullins has to stage-manage much of George and Charlotte’s drama, but adds some nice intensity of his own. And as if a farce needed comic relief, Alexander as Grandma Ethel brings it again and again in delightfully curmudgeonly fashion.

Two additional characters add their complications to the mix. David Boyer plays Richard, the family attorney, who has more than court briefs on his mind. Boyer is the most straight-laced of the cast, and his dignified persona offers a suitable foil for the insanity around him. And then there’s Eileen (Dixie Hartvigsen). No plot spoilers here, but a good dose of hilarity can be found in her vocal mashup of Betty Boop and Linda Blair (of “Exorcist” fame).

Like most venues, Attic Productions had to take an extended break due to COVID. Now that the players are back in action, Fincastle’s community theater is becoming a great place to find solid productions of fine traditional shows that stand the test of time.

One advisory: Some patrons may find the otherwise comfortable auditorium a bit chilly, so plan accordingly.

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