BENNINGTON — "Tito quits the concert, and things again look bleak for Max and Saunders until a bellhop, Beppo, arrives with Tito and Maria's lost luggage; he is a simple Italian man and former gondolier who is exactly identical to Tito in appearance and happens to have an amazing singing voice..." — (McCarter Theatre plot synopsis)
Have I given too much away here? No. Ken Ludwig knows all the options available to writers of farce, and so do you: many doors; lots of dramatic irony; stereotypical characters; deception; and mistaken identity. You come to a farce to be amused by characters who can't see past the end of their immediate desires. Hah-hah!
Both the script and the production are better in Act II than Act I, but the ending thuds instead of soars.
Who are these stereotypical characters? Mr. Saunders (Richard Howe), an apoplectic producer of a major concert featuring operatic tenors, but how many exactly becomes the source of Saunders' ever-increasing agita; Max (Max Arnaud), Saunders' nuchschlepper, son-in-law, and sometime tenor himself; a leading tenor, Tito (Peter Langstaff) and his wife, Maria (Yvonne Perry), alternatively loving and combative, like com-media dell'arte spouses; Mimi (Ana Anderson), their daughter, an aspiring movie actress; Carlo (Ethan Botwick), Tito's up-and-coming vocal competition and secret swain of Mimi; and Tatiana Racon (Renata Eastlick), Tito's one-night stand from years ago who turns up at just the right time — farcically speaking.
Dress them in fashionable 1930s outfits by Ursula McCarty & Roy Hamlin, put them all in a Paris hotel suite, circa 1936 (handsome set by Carl Sprague and apt lighting by Scott Cally), and stir. Things go horribly wrong before they right themselves.
Director Christine Decker has assembled and ably shepherded a cast that knows its way around the boards, so the tempo is generally appropriate for the material. Little pieces of stage business that seem undercooked (e.g., the bucket prop) may gel during the run.
Eastlick gives the production a big boost as the passionate Russian soprano. Anderson's ingenue is sweetly self-involved. Botwick credibly plays a nice young man who doesn't know what hit him, literally and figuratively. Arnaud's Max is everywhere properly earnest, and Perry takes the full measure of Maria's hot-bloodedness, as much of a drama queen offstage as her husband is onstage. Perry is always a joy.
Old pro Howe stumbled on lines on opening night, slowing the pace. His arm-flailing and nervous energy, however, fit right in with events that get increasingly out of his control.
Langstaff does well by his double roles, particularly in a paean to food in Act II and in conveying Beppo's dawning awareness of how wonderful life can be, even when he has already settled for something less.
There's no overlooking the pleasant, but non-operatic, singing in Act I, I'm afraid. And Langstaff's use of a script is curious. Better to have contrived a way around a scene that, despite its good intentions and energy, really doesn't come off. Even in a farce we have to start with credibility.
'A Comedy of Tenors'
WHERE: Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main St., Bennington, Vt.
WHEN: Wednesday through Sunday, through Sept. 3
HOW MUCH: students, $12; adults, $39-$65
MORE INFO: 802-447-1267 or click here