Allen Boretz and John Murray didn’t write “Room Service” with the Marx Brothers in mind, so the play still does work as a screwball comedy even without Groucho, Chico and Harpo.
“There’ll be very little Groucho up on stage,” said Patrick White, who plays Gordon Miller in the Schenectady Civic Players production of “Room Service,” opening Friday and running through May 11. “I can see why they were drawn to the script maybe, but I don’t think anyone is going to recognize Groucho. I’m not worried about that. I’m just following the script.”
The story centers on Miller, played by Groucho in the film, a Broadway producer who is using a hotel ballroom to help cast and crew prepare for his next show. Miller is in dire need of a financial backer so he can pay his hotel bill and get on with the show.
“The play actually holds up pretty well, so I’m not that sure the Marx Brothers improved upon it,” said Chris Foster, who is directing the show. “I was actually a bit skeptical about directing, but when I read the script I found it thoroughly enjoyable. The characters are pretty well described, and I don’t think the Marx Brothers’ personas necessarily enhance what’s going on.”
Joining White on stage are John Schnurr as Leo Davis, a young playwright who agrees to go along with Miller’s scheming, and Amy M. Lane as Christine Marlowe, a performer in the show who becomes romantically linked with Davis. Also in the cast of 14 are some pretty colorful characters, such as Marty O’Connor as Joe Gribble, Robin MacDuffie as Faker Englund, Richard Michael Rowe as Harry Binion, John Sutliff as Wagner and Jennifer Van Iderstine as Hilda Manney.
’Room Service’ & ’All My Sons’
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. Friday and runs through May 11; performances 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $17
MORE INFO: 382-2081, www.civicplayers.org
‘All My Sons’
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through May 18
HOW MUCH: $15-$10
MORE INFO: 462-1297, www.albanycivictheater.org
“It’s almost like a screwball comedy, but I’m calling it a wisecrack comedy,” said Foster. “It’s not your ridiculous, door-slamming farce. There’s some slapstick to it, but it also has some romantic and situation comedy elements in it. I liked it the first time I read it. It didn’t have to grow on me.”
White also liked it the first time he read it, but began appreciating the script even more during rehearsals.
“It really didn’t jump off the page to me as a funny script,” he said. “There’s a bit of anarchy to it, and the Marx Brothers took it to another level. We’re not doing that, but once you get committed to it and see it acted out then it got real funny to me.”
For White, a familiar face to Capital Region theater fans, “Room Service” is a bit of a departure from his usual acting fare.
“I do usually gravitate toward more contemporary stuff,” said White, who became a regular at Albany Civic more than 20 years ago and has since performed at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham and various other venues, including the Schenectady Civic Playhouse. “It’s not what I typically do, so it’s very much a change of pace; an old fashion change of pace. It’s a challenge that I’m very much enjoying.”
White said he has worked before with 11 of the 14 actors in the cast.
“I have fantastic people to work with, and just hanging out with everyone has been fun,” he said. “But some of these cast members are only in one or two scenes, so I’m trying to make sure I don’t disappoint anyone and blow my lines.”
“Room Service” was originally produced in New York City in May 1937 and ran for 500 performances. Eddie Albert played Leo Davis, the playwright, and veteran stage actor Sam Levene was Gordon Miller.
Within a year the movie version was out with the Marx Brothers. It was the only script for a Marx Brothers film that wasn’t specifically written for them. Lucille Ball and Ann Miller co-starred.
In 1944, Hollywood made another version and turned it into a movie, “Step Lively,” with Frank Sinatra and George Murphy in the two lead roles. The original non-musical was again produced on Broadway in 1953 with Jack Lemmon in the role of Davis. It lasted less than two weeks.
Boretz and Murray had long writing careers after “Room Service,” and Boretz was also given a writing credit for the film version and for “Step Lively.” His Broadway success helped him land a job in Hollywood writing screenplays until he was blacklisted during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Murray, meanwhile, continued to write plays and serve as a lyricist before eventually breaking into television. Neither man matched the success they enjoyed with “Room Service.”
Also opening up Friday night at Albany Civic Theater is Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.”
The production is being directed by Aaron Holbritter and stars William Daisak as Joe Keller, Ian LaChance as Chris Keller, Angela Potrikus as Kate Keller and Casey Polomaine as Anne Deever.
“All My Sons” is Miller’s Tony Award-winning play from 1947 about a machine shop owner whose business partner was sent to prison for making defective parts for airplanes during World War II.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected].