Waiting for Capra

According to Aristotle, comedy is harder to pull off than tragedy, and farce is the most challenging genre of all. How to get the audience to emotionally engage with all of the goofy plot twists, the ridiculous sight gags and the improbable situations? How to, in the immortal words of film star Donald O’Connor, “Make ’em laugh?” Well, if the lofty goal is a good old-fashioned giggle, then Cottage Theatre’s Moon Over Buffalo doesn’t disappoint.

Set in a tiny regional theater in mid-century Buffalo, N.Y., this 1995 Ken Ludwig play opens on a rehearsal of a pared-down, five-man “one nostril” repertory version of Cyrano de Bergerac, starring fading star George Hay (played by Tony Rust). Rust is perfect as Hay, embodying the frustrations of a would-be celebrity who has spent his life tirelessly stumping around the boards. His wife, Charlotte Hay (played by Karen Snyder) crackles as his foil, and the acrimony between them is only interrupted by the faint promise of a visit from famed film director Frank Capra, who is reportedly making a trek to Buffalo to seek talent for his next motion picture.

The Hays buzz with the possibility of a rescue from the banality of a small-town traveling repertory, but nothing in farce is ever easy. Act I sets up the many obstacles in their way: The sweet ingénue who may or may not be in a family way; the prodigal daughter who’s sucked back onto the stage and the two swains who vie for her; the lawyer who’d happily sweep Charlotte away from her travails; the long-suffering mother-in-law whose feud with George evidently encompasses decades; and the Hays themselves, snarling and embittered, yet ruefully dependent on one another to finally catch that lucky break.

In Act II, playwright Ludwig lovingly intertwines all the wacky plot developments into one frothy, fervent brew.

There’s an old showbiz adage that when in doubt, comedy should always be “louder, faster and funnier,” and director Janet Rust delivers. The pacing and broad physicality build throughout the production, and the audience is taken right along for the ride.

Moon Over Buffalo runs through June 29 at the Cottage Theatre in Cottage Grove;$15-$18.

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