Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Theatre review: "Louder Faster" at City Theatre

What is Louder Faster louder and faster than? And what the hell kind of a name is that for a play anyway? Who cares? Writers Eric Simonson and Jeffrey Hatcher have come up with a comic classic. The spirit of 1930s farcical stage and movie comedies lives on. Sort of like Room Service, the movie version of which starred the Marx Brothers. Sort of like The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers in which they also starred on the silver screen and under the bright lights of Broadway. Hey! Hold the phone. Weren’t those last two by that bright light of Broadway, East Liberty’s,George S Kaufman? Uh, sort of. He actually wrote that stuff with some other guys. But give him credit where credit is due.

And guess who’s the star of this whole new shebang. Good old GSK. He’s not in it; he’s dead. But he lives on as the most significant character. Although this is fiction. With a Kaufman-like plot.

True, some of the acting goes a little overboard at times, as if director Tracy Brigden allowed a couple of cast members to milk it too hard, squeezing instead of letting it flow naturally. But since zippy lines keep on coming, no matter who delivers them or how, we’ve got a gem on our palm red hands in this world premiere. I'll bet my bottom dollar that this baby’ll go places.

Get this: No nudity, No profanity. No sensitive gays. An actual intermission. Way out of its time. And way into another one.

It’s 1937 and George has come back to where his family used to be…used-to-be, as you recall, is Pittsburgh to a fare-thee-well. Kaufman’s got a masterpiece in mind. Written all by himself. About his family, hence hanging around the roots to dig into the family tree. More recently the place was a hideout for a Communist cell. And one of those reds is still lurking, looking for an incriminating list. Also looking for it: G man Vic Zimmer. Standing by is distant relative young Morris Kaufman, whom George quickly wishes would get more distant. In the mix too are George’s agent, Max, and two girls Max hired by phone. One’s a secretary, the other a babe who mostly works in the dark, prone to be prone.

Confusions and misunderstandings cascade and tumble with snappy sentences flowing like the Mon flooding The Bathtub.

Brigden gets the vigorous pace nailed. And visiting artist Brian Sgambati plays George S. with winning charm and solid substance. Martin Giles and Patrick Jordan as Max and Vic expertly carry off the roles as funny extensions of their regularly recognizable personas. Meanwhile Robyn Parrish as a Betty Davis look-alike does well with the style that works best, a Veronica who comes across more like a real person than Marina Squerciati’s Betty cartoon, or Tony Bingham’s proximity to Jughead. Tony Ferrieri’s wonderfully crusty set does the trick as does the brassy, pre and post act sound of classic swing which Brad Peterson has disc-jockeyed swell.

Don’t forget to glom City Theatre’s program notes from Carlyn Aquiline. This gang knows how to do what it’s doing.

Louder Faster runs through May 29th at City Theatre at Bingham Street on Pittsburgh’s South Side. 412/431 CITY (2489) or www.citytheatrecompany.org

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