WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St.
WHEN: Through May 11
HOW MUCH: $17
MORE INFO: 382-2081, www.civicplayers.org
At one point in “Room Service,” an amusing 1937 play by John Murray and Allen Boretz that was later a Marx Brothers film and is being given a boffo treatment by the Schenectady Civic Players, woebegone theater producer Gordon Miller (Patrick White) refers to the Labors of Hercules. Well, Hercules got off easy compared to Miller, and watching Miller try to lift one heavy fib after another provides much of a swell combination of verbal and visual humor.
Miller and his cast and crew are bedding down in the White Way Hotel, but among them they haven’t got a plug nickel to pay their bills. They’re trying to mount a play called “Godspeed,” but they’re waiting for a backer to foot the bills.
Management, however, in the person of one Gregory Wagner (John Sutliff), wants payment pronto, so Miller and his cronies, including Faker Englund (Robin MacDuffie) and gal pal Christine (Amy M. Lane), concoct one cockamamie scenario after another to stall Wagner. Gosh, these theater types are clever and convincing, and, by golly, art finally does trump commerce, thanks to the deus ex machina intervention of Senator Blake (Pat Brady), who declares the play a hit.
Played on a smart set by Duncan Morrison and featuring Joe Fava’s eye-popping costumes and Joel Katz’s cheery lighting design, this production owes its success largely to director Chris Foster, who cast the 14 parts with a keen eye and has elicited sharp-edged performances from each actor, no matter the size of the role. It’s a noisy show, with the phone ringing constantly and someone new always barging through the door of Miller’s hotel room, yammering about this or that, usually bad news for Miller, so Foster must keep the pace fast, which he does.
The dialogue is snappy (with 1930s colloquialisms like “the energy of a steam shovel,” “The play’s a piece of cheese,” “house dicks” and “gorillas”), the stage business is broad, and the cast delivers the craziness, with a special nod to Dennis Skriba and Richard Cross.
The plot chugs along thanks to the work of five in particular: Marty O’Connor, hysterical as Joseph Gribble, an apoplectic underling to Wagner, as well as Miller’s brother-in-law; the estimable Richard Michael Roe, whose droll line readings as Harry Binion, the director, are textbook; an endearing John Schnurr as Leo Davis, the star-struck playwright from Oswego who, under Miller’s tutelage, quickly degenerates from Broadway baby to Broadway bamboozler and who is smitten with Hilda (a delightful Jennifer Van Iderstyne); Sutliff, who can fuss and fume with the best of any 1930s cinema second bananas, like Edward Everett Horton; and White, whose Miller is slightly annoying but ultimately winning in his unstinting devotion to self and Art. Miller is hungry for something — the next thing — and White — such a confident performer — conveys that passion with a big voice and big movement.
If the script sometimes seems a little dusty, the production is sparkling.