April 24, 2018
Whatever your artistic quest may be, from unearthing gem stones or archeological ruins to discovering a lost manuscript of music, there is always an element of nostalgia and new found glee when the item arises. Stage director Fortunato Pezzimenti discovered Arthur Richman’s unpublished 1922 script THE AWFUL TRUTH in the New York Public Library for The Performing Arts in 2011. Only briefly produced on Broadway in 1935, the story has been told on 3 occasions on the silver screen.
While truly not a legitimate genre of theatre, the term “screwball comedy” took Hollywood by storm in the 1930’s with such hits as “Bringing Up Baby,” “His Girl Friday,” and “It Happened One Night,” to name but a few. Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre Company is serving up a charming trifle in its quick witted production of THE AWFUL TRUTH. Whiffs of perfume, a melancholy song played on the parlor piano and a drop dead gown are all it takes to make a man swoon and fall in love, while literally becoming weak in the knees and cross eyed. Similar drawing room comedies attributed to likes of Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde often are equally as frothy in their premises, but sight gags and melodrama push the likes of those plays into the screwball category.
Mr. Pezzimenti obviously loves this material and from curtain up sets the perfect tone.
Reminiscent of those early Hollywood opening credits, the French maid Celeste (Marisa Caruso) enters carrying elegant name cards for each character, as they strut center stage to introduce themselves with a winning grin, grimace, or skip. Picture moving figures inset in a cameo on the silver screen with swells of orchestral music and you get the clever idea.
A young divorcee, Lucy Warriner, is set to marry Texas oil magnate Daniel Leeson. But whether his overbearing Aunt will approve of the bride’s indiscretions forms the backbone of the story.
This reviewer is near always impressed by ICTC’s casting and this production is no exception. Diane Curley is a breath of fresh air as elegant and conniving Lucy. Her plan to convince her Aunt-to-be that she is as innocent as can be involves convincing her ex husband, Norman Satterly, to essentially testify on her behalf. But as the two meet again, their old love re-ignites, however problematic that may be.
Adriano Gatto is both charming and goofy as Norman, ala the film’s interpreter Cary Grant. Gatto is dashing and up to the challenge of exasperation mixed with subtle physical comedy. Ms. Curley is perfectly coquettish when needed, but at all times in control of her mastermind plan.
Ellen Horst is genius as the dowager Mrs. Leeson. Her mere presence puts everyone on edge, and her disdain for all things improper makes her an early 20th Century Lady Bracknell. Ms. Horst lets roulades of contempt roll of her tongue with ease and charmed the audience with her haughtiness. Eric Rawski was aptly gawky and uncomfortable as the rich Texan who who is a fish out of water among the Country Club socialite crowd. His comfort with physical comedy is aided by his tall stature.
The secondary cast was all equally strong, from Lucy’s friends, Eustace and Josephine Trent, played with hilarity by Zak Ward and Maura Nolan. Chris Kelly has a memorable cameo as Rufus Kempster, Lucy’s supposed former lover. Kelly commands the stage with an over the top British accent that charms from the outset.
The lovely costumes by Bethany Kasperek were finely tailored and complemented by Set Designer David Dwyer’s posh settings. Mr. Pezzimenti happily moves the story along at a good clip, since the wispy thin plot could easily become tedious. Thankfully the cast acts with complete conviction and finds the right balance of tongue in cheek, wink at the audience naughtiness to keep everyone engaged. There are reasons these comedies have fallen out of favor and not been revived much, if ever, in this case. But the programming of a silly screwball comedy does seem to fit well into ICTC’s season of comedies.