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Civic’s ‘Moon over Buffalo’ helps us laugh our troubles away

May 16, 2019

Sometimes it’s good to lay your troubles (and your brain) aside and just enjoy being entertained.

That’s the way to approach “Moon over Buffalo,” the Ken Ludwig farce that opened Friday at Rochester Civic Theatre.

Directed by Michael Stebbins, and with an all-professional cast, “Moon over Buffalo” comes with no change-the-world message, nor does it appeal to our better angels. In fact, it encourages us to laugh at the foibles of our fellow man — especially when, as in the case of George Hay in this play — he tries too hard to be too important.

George and his wife, Charlotte, veterans of stage and screen, have arrived in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1953 as one of the last (and least) touring theater companies fending off the threats of television and color movies. Their last chance at Hollywood success has apparently passed them by. Until, that is, they receive word that famed director Frank Capra is looking for a replacement actor for his new movie. Capra is on his way to Buffalo to see George and Charlotte present “Private Lives.” Or is it “Cyrano de Bergerac” they’re supposed to be presenting?

As might be guessed with any farce, there are slamming doors (five, to be exact), mistaken identities, misunderstandings, sight gags, physical comedy and plenty of twists and turns in the plot.

Ludwig’s script can feel a bit stale at times, and he too often reaches for the easy laugh. But he can also be witty and sharp. Audiences love this stuff. Even the most obvious lines are funny because we anticipate them; we’re in on the joke.

Charles Fraser returns to the Civic as George, and somehow manages to play nearly the entire second act as an actor in an inebriated condition. Yvonne Erickson is his long-suffering wife, Charlotte, whose love for drama is part of her every emotion and movement.

Konrad Case demonstrates a nicely honed deadpan style as Paul. At one point though, he almost loses control when Fraser forces him to stifle laughs during a nutty baby-birthing scene.

Jamie Case, last seen in “Diary of Anne Frank” at the Civic, here gets to show off her skill with comedy. Making their Civic debuts are Leo Erickson, Karissa Lade, Ryan Maltz and Peggy O’Connell.

“Think of all the people out there living through you,” George says to Charlotte at one point. Such is their life in the theater. But he might have more accurately said, “Think of all the people out there laughing through you.”

That is the gift of these actors and their show. For a couple of hours, they help us laugh away whatever our troubles might be.