Audiences are ready for a comedic treat when the Ponca Playhouse presents One man, two governors this weekend and next. The first offering in their 63rd season, this hilarious farce by Richard Bean showcases a bevy of talent in frenzied, hilarious hijinks that I predict will have audiences laughing just as the cast must be breathless. Directed by Sam Stuart, this commedia dell’arte-style play is a frenzied, boisterous comedy that goes from joke to joke and is just what it takes to cheer up.
The play opens in the seaside town of Brighton, England, one morning in April 1963, at the engagement party of young Pauline Clench (charmingly played by Lynna Storm) and her fiance Alan Dangle (Kaden Swords) , an overly dramatic amateur actor whose flowery speech is the target of many jokes. It’s a stark contrast for theatergoers who may remember Kaden from his lead role last year in The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night, but it was great fun to see him in something so different. The character of Miss Storm is darling but weak, and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for her as she is commanded by her father, local Mafia boss Charlie “The Duck”, a role that seems tailor-made for Stephen Long. It is soon revealed that Charlie had a very different match in mind for Pauline in the person of gangster Roscoe Crabbe, thwarted by his untimely murder (but hey, the sausage rolls had already been ordered). Calamity and confusion ensue when Roscoe suddenly shows up at the party, escorted by his “guardian” Francis Henshall (Ryan Brown), and demands that Charlie honor their arrangement. Alan’s father, Harry Dangle (who is also Charlie’s shady lawyer) is played by Larry King in his usual fashion, while Charlie’s naughty accountant, Dolly, is played with a lot of zest and vigor by Andrea Mooney. Francis is of course instantly drawn to Dolly and their prodigious verbal fights and flirtation set the tone for many obscene and irreverent jokes to come. Also in attendance is pub owner and chef Lloyd Boateng (Todd Stuart), the only character to recognize “Roscoe” as actually his twin sister Rachel (Dana Willoughby) in disguise. Rachel has been on the run since her brother was murdered by her own boyfriend. Despite her manly outfit and wig, Miss Willoughby really shines as she seamlessly shifts from the confident East End thug she has to pretend to be to her real persona, a love-sick young woman on the loose. The party ends soon, of course, with Pauline swearing she’ll never marry Roscoe, Alan threatening violence, Charlie digging up funds to pay Roscoe, and Francis and his Guvnor leaving to find accommodation and food at the pub. Lloyd’s, The Cricketer’s Arms.
It’s our first real moment with the main character and Ryan Brown is playing him for all he’s worth. With his usual aplomb, Mr. Brown jokes, improvises and teases the audience, even involving a few good sportsmen among them in his antics on stage like Francis Henshall, recently fired from his band Skiffle, perpetually hungry, easily confused and of course mainly concerned about his own well-being. Outside of Cricketer’s Arms, he meets Stanley Stubbers (Blake Brown), an upper-class idiot whose stuffy manners and dirty humor meet a tumultuous effect. Spotting another easy meal ticket, Francis agrees to work for Stanley as well but must now prevent his two Guvnors from discovering his duplicity while he tries not to confuse himself. Blake Brown is downright ridiculous as Stanley, never shying away from the lowest jokes and giving as good as they can against his brother Ryan (though audiences should note that some of the humor is definitely not for it. children.) When not shopping for his masters or trying to fill his stomach, Francis spends every moment trying to convince sassy Dolly to run away with him to Mallorca for a weekend or rip everything off. the world around him to get the funds to make it happen.
The cast is rounded off by a colorful set of characters, including Chris Schelp as rude butler Gareth and JP Mays as his former and faltering comrade Alfie, who truly carries the slapstick physical humor with Francis to his paroxysm. Also featured are Stacie Snyder, Janie Heitman and Jordyn Heitman, like everything from a young boy scout to the local Bobbies on their tour. Dotted with British slang, the physical humor and non-stop rhythm are interspersed with delicious Skiffle music during the transitions, including songs by Grant Olding from the original production. Overall, the show is an invigorating roller coaster of mistaken identities, missed connections, and insane British humor that can’t help but entertain.
Of course, many volunteers gave their time and talents to the production, and it shows. Kat Long’s costumes and hair are charming and evocative, with a versatile Chad Anderson set design that has been built by many actors. The charming accessories are from Stacey Richard, Roseanne Cockriel, Sam Stuart and Blake Brown. Lighting design is by Kyla Radaker-James, sound design by Todd Stuart, and technical operations are performed by Tyler Coffman and stage manager Caroline Buck-Homier. Angelisa Tello and Mallory Riley provided head photos and other photographs.
In his director’s note, Sam Stuart says the cast “… found every smile, every laugh, every shade of humor, brought it to light, polished it up and made it shine like a beacon. “for the simple purpose of making the audience howl with laughter. Don’t miss the opportunity to let them do it.
Shows One man, two governors are September 10-12 and 17-19, 2021 at Ponca Playhouse, 301 S. First in Ponca City. Screenings on Friday and Saturday start at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday mornings at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $ 20 each for adults, available online at www.poncaplayhouse.com or by phone at 580-765-5360. Seasonal memberships are also still available for the Playhouse online or at the theater.