Four-and-a-half years ago, Richard Bean’s comedy play ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ appeared out of nowhere, making a mad, merry pratfall onto the stage of public awareness—first in London on the West End, then in New York City on Broadway, and most recently in Berkeley, where last year ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ played to ecstatic sold out houses for months.
“You’re a strange planet,” one character tells another early on in the show, and it’s a phrase that could also describe the play itself: a strange planet populated by wildly funny characters.
‘One Man, Two Guvnor’ is a preposterously British, 1960s-set update of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century Italian farce ‘A Servant of Two Masters.’ This Pythonesque adaptation has already become a modern comedy classic, scooping up awards on both sides of the Atlantic, making an international star of its original leading man James Cordon, and landing on the performance-rights Wish Lists of college and community theaters across the Western world.
Now, under the supremely playful direction of Carl Jordan—who last year directed 6th Street Playhouse’s award-winning ‘Clybourne Park’—this aggressively silly enterprise finally gets its North Bay premiere, also at 6th Street, where it is quite possibly the funniest play the company has presented since its staging of the similarly over-the-top ‘The 39 Steps,’ in 2012.
Crowned by a truly masterful performance by 6th Street’s Artistic Director Craig Miller, this production—though still a bit wobbly and uneven on opening night—transcends its somewhat shaky opening, and deserves to be seen by anyone who relishes the savory tang of laughter, lewdness and blatant, unashamed spectacle.
The story—which alternates with pleasantly scruffy songs delivered by a combo of laid-back musicians—follows a day in the life of professional servant Francis Henshaw—that would be Miller—who’s just arrived in the seaside town of Brighton to deliver a message from his boss, the petty criminal Roscoe Crabbe, who was reportedly recently killed by the wealthy and slightly-psychotic gangster Stanley Stubbers—a magnificent Ben Stowe. Much to everyone’s surprise, Roscoe isn’t dead after all. Well, he is, but he’s just shown up in town anyway, impersonated, just barely, by his own sister Rachel (Rose Roberts), who’s arrived with Francis in search of a big score before eloping to Australia with her psychotic boyfriend, who happens to be Stanley Stubbers.
Are you following this? Doesn’t matter.
Either is Francis.
Easily confused—and ravenously hungry—Francis ultimately accepts a second job working for Stubbers, who’s also arrived in town, looking for his missing fiancé.
A large cast of crazy characters constantly swirls about, as Francis gamely attempts to solve all of the problems he accidentally causes. The constant action is carried along on a wave of physical comedy and some outrageously over-the-top dialogue.
There are even moments of “audience participation,” so don’t be surprised if you end up on stage holding a pot of plastic fish.
There are, it should be pointed out, a few problems here and there with the production, as presented on opening night.
Certain actors’ accents border on the indecipherable, a closing song by the cast is woefully tone-challenged, and some of the gags—and a great deal of the second act—lag a tad in energy and invention. Still, furiously driven as it is by the joyous mayhem of Craig Miller’s masterly skills and jaw-dropping comic presence, this ridiculous exercise in comedic fervor is as satisfying as a good sandwich at the end of a long day.
‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ runs Thursday–Sunday, through February 7 at 6th Street Playhouse.