One Man, Two Guvnors

Noah Hrbek, from left, Curt Arnold and Patrick Ciamacco in “One Man, Two Guvnors.”

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Whether you are an actor, a former actor, or an enthusiastic theater goer, every so often a show comes along that makes you want to jump out of your seat and run onto the stage to be a part of the hilarity. This is the case for Blank Canvas Theatre’s production of “One Man, Two Guvnors,” by Richard Bean.

Based on the 1746 Carlo Goldoni classic comedy, “The Servant of Two Masters,” Bean’s version has the rhythm and vibe that one would expect of a riotous British farce. Set in 1963 in Brighton, Frances Henshall is an out of work British rock musician, with an insatiable appetite, who winds up working for two guvnors with their own secrets. The first is Rachel Crabbe, disguised as her murdered, gangster brother, and the second is Stanley Stubbers, who murdered that brother and happens to be in a relationship with Rachel Crabbe. Both are in Brighton, neither one knows the other is there, and neither knows that Henshall is working for the other.

To delve too deeply into the plot would be a disservice to potential audience members. It is more fun to have the storyline reveal itself as it goes along. Plus, the plot is secondary to the madcap antics that are going on onstage and in the house, with a mix of improvisation, carefully planned moments, and audience interaction. One highlight is the dinner scene where Henshall bounces back and forth between guvnors who are behind closed doors. With the help of a frail old waiter, think Tim Conway as the old man on “The Carol Burnett Show,” the slapstick physical comedy is taken to a new level, and the rip-roarious laughter reaches new heights.

The cast is a top-notch ensemble, and Patrick Ciamacco is at the center of it all. He is so comfortable in both physical comedy and witty delivery, trading jibes with audience members, and driving the pacing and overall feel of the show.

All of the other actors have incredible comic timing, as well, working together like a well-oiled machine, and standing out in their own individual performances. Shley Snider is the perfect “straight man” for Ciamacco as Rachel/Roscoe Crabbe, finding the exact balance between the tougher, more threatening Roscoe, and the sympathetic, softer Rachel. Adam Harry is charmingly goofy with a funny sarcastic edge to his Stanley Stubbers.

Andrew Keller is absolutely hysterical as Alan Dangle, the over exaggerated actor who is engaged to the ditzy Pauline Clench, played delightfully by Katie Wells. Lindsay Pier has the strength and sass for the role of the no-nonsense Dolly. Mark Seven, John J. Polk and Dave Moody as Charlie “the Duck” Clench, Harry Dangle and Lloyd Boateng, respectively, are engaging and adept at fast talking and mugging which adds to the very British cadence of the dialogue.

Curt Arnold’s Gareth is appropriately proper, and he is the perfect sidekick for Noah Hrbek who is an absolute scene stealer as Alfie the octogenarian waiter who’s head to toe tremors, shuffling feet, and exaggerated pratfalls are side-splittingly funny.

The script is full of off-kilter humor, word play, and innuendo, entertaining from beginning to end. But the show would not be the same without the truly awesome band the Fishmongers, made up of local musicians/actors Zach Palumbo, Benson Anderson, Jaiden Willis, and Bradley Wyner, who was also the music director.

The band starts rocking out about fifteen minutes before the show starts. The score of the show is in a style called “skiffle” which is a form of British rock with hints of blues and country. The fab foursome sets the entire tone of the show, warming up the crowd as they croon, trade instruments, and groove to their own music, and make small talk with each other and the crowd. The audience could have watched an entire concert of these guys, whose twangy pitch-perfect harmonies were enhanced by their contagious energy. They pop in and out throughout the show as scenes change, and occasionally are joined by cast members for some outstanding numbers–the more the merrier!

This show is one big party, hosted by director Anne McEvoy, who took all of these complicated pieces and parts and made it look easy. This is a show that is clearly a blast to be a part of, and just as much fun to watch.

The Cleveland theater scene is boasting some really wonderful work, and it is important to remember that productions come in all shapes and sizes. If you have not ventured out to some of these theaters like Blank Canvas, The Beck Center, Dobama and so many others, this is a great time to venture out. Add these smaller theater productions to your calendar along with the Playhouse Square season. Oh, and save room for a snack – Blank Canvas has salt and pepper popcorn.

THE CLEVELAND PREMIERE

Brighton, England. 1963. Change is in the air, and Francis Henshall is looking to make his mark. Fired from a skiffle band and in search of work, he finds himself employed by small-time gangster Roscoe Crabbe, in town to collect a fee from his fiancee's gangster father. But Roscoe is really Rachel, posing as her own dead brother, herself in love with Stanley Stubbers (her brother's killer) who, in turn, becomes our hero's other 'guvnor'. Fighting a mounting sense of confusion, Francis goes out of his way to serve both bosses. But with the distractions of a pneumatic book keeper, a self-important actor and select members of the criminal fraternity (not to mention his own mammoth appetite) to contend with, how long can he keep them apart? Richard Bean's hilarious comedy received 5-star reviews from every London newspaper and was the hit of the 2012 Broadway season.


Sheri Gross is the CJN theatre critic. She is a performer, director and freelance writer from Solon. She was the director of the Mandel JCC Playmakers Youth Theatre and Pilloff Performing Arts Camp for over 20 years and is the director of creative programs at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike.

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