A challenge for theater companies that often stage the same material as other area troupes is how to make audiences forget past performances of a play, particularly outstanding ones.
That's one of the burdens Prince William Little Theatre carried in its recent production of Ken Ludwig's "Moon Over Buffalo," one of the more familiar comedies on area stages in recent years.
Ludwig's play, like all his works, is quite thin, relying on stock characters and much high-energy shtick to entertain. Here, at least, he has provided a decent framework. In capable hands, "Moon Over Buffalo" can satisfy the funny bone.
Mostly, the play needs actors extremely adept at rapid-fire comedy and high-intensity mugging. This version, directed and produced by Ted Ballard, didn't make anyone forget some of the truly smashing productions seen on the region's other stages, but it did have several strong performances and an ensemble cast that generally hung tight enough so the production could be deemed a qualified success.
"Moon Over Buffalo" is set mostly backstage, with a bit onstage at a run-down Buffalo theater in 1953. George and Charlotte Hay (Greg Powell and Shelley Kramer) are a married acting couple reduced to touring B-list theaters with their own ragtag repertory company.
George has gotten the company's ingenue (Lindsey Wilson) pregnant, Charlotte is having an affair with their lawyer (Jay Bolling), and Hollywood director Frank Capra is set to attend a matinee to consider giving George, and possibly Charlotte, a starring role in a big-budget film, setting up a situation where mayhem erupts.
Meanwhile, George and Charlotte's daughter, Rosalind (Erin Gray), is engaged to a dullard TV weatherman (Kevin Kirby) but is fooling around with their stage manager (Bill Kitzerow). And Charlotte's dotty, hard-of-hearing mother (Pat Douglass) wanders through it all, creating havoc.
The first thing you saw on Gavin Tameris's shaky, one-dimensional set was a row of doors, five of them, alerting you to expect lots of rapid entrances and exits. And slamming, of course.
Powell and Gray offered the best moments and biggest laughs in the play. Powell quite properly went well over the top as George, especially when the ham actor got blindingly drunk before the big matinee. Powell painted his character in broad strokes, giving him unusual vocal tics and physical mannerisms that worked well.
Gray, as his hardheaded daughter Rosalind, took a different approach, displaying a tart characterization and finely tuned comedic timing. Her scene alone "onstage" in the botched-up matinee was the play's highlight.
Kramer was adequate but forgettable as Charlotte. Her performance was not lavish, hammy or theatrical enough to match Powell's.