Susan Granger’s review of “Room Service” at the Westport Country Playhouse (Oct. 2013)
Perhaps best known as a 1938 Marx Brothers/Lucille Ball movie, this zany comedy by John Murray and Allen Boretz was first staged on Broadway by legendary director George Abbott, starring Sam Levene, Eddie Albert and Betty Field. Now it’s been revived by Artistic Director Mark Lamos, recalling an era when the primary job of inventive impresarios, like Mr. Abbott, Jed Harris and David Merrick, was raising money to finance their shows.
Set in 1937 at the second-rate Times Square White Way Hotel, it revolves around a tenacious, if penniless producer, Gordon Miller (Ben Steinfeld), who is desperately trying to find backers for a new play, “Godspeed,” an epic history of the United States as seen through the eyes of an ignorant Polish miner. Threatened with his own eviction, along with his director (Jim Bracchitta) and cast, he harangues his hapless brother-in-law, Joseph Gribble (David Beach), the hotel manager, to allow him just a little more time, particularly since his gal friend (Zoe Winters) has arranged an appointment with the mysterious representative of a prospective benefactor. But just as “Godspeed’s” naïve playwright Leo Davis (Eric Bryant) unexpectedly arrives from upstate Oswego, so does the hotel’s irate auditor, Gregory Wagner (Michael McCormick). Saving them all from starvation when their access to Room Service is terminated, the Russian actor/waiter (Peter Von Berg) Sasha Smirnoff is hilarious. And the rest of the obliging cast includes Donald Corren, Hayley Trieder, Richard Ruiz and Frank Vlastnik.
Familiar with the frenetic tenets of a four-door farce, Mark Lamos keeps the pace fast and the tightly constructed chaos under control, although the set, designed by John Arnone and fronted by blinking footlights, seems a bit too claustrophobic. Russell Champa’s lighting is evocative of that era, as are Drew Levy’s sound and Wade Laboissonniere’s period costumes.
FYI: unlike frivolous French farces, there are no mistaken identities or sexual innuendos. And two intermissions in a two-hour show serve to deflate the comedic energy.
The final play of the season, “Room Service” runs through Oct. 27 at the Westport Country Playhouse. For tickets and more information, call 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org.