When does something familiar, peculiar, gaudy, and bawdy not come from the score of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? When it’s One Man, Two Guvnors, British playwright Richard Bean’s delicious riff on Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte classic The Servant of Two Masters. Sound Theatre’s ridiculously funny staging of the show (at Seattle Center House Theatre in the Armory) proves among other things that this comedy does not require a London and Broadway star and Tony award winner (and now popular talk show host) to drive its central role, nor is it a one person show. Indeed the expert Seattle cast, directed with panache by Ken Michels, is as much responsible for the guffaws as is Bean’s script.
In Brighton, England, 1963, an amiable loser named Francis Henshall becomes separately employed by two men–Roscoe Crabbe, a local gangster, and Stanley Stubbers, an upper class criminal. Francis tries to keep the two from meeting, in order to avoid each of them learning that Francis is also working for someone else. However, it turns out that Roscoe is really Rachel Crabbe in disguise, her twin brother Roscoe having been killed by her lover, who is none other than Stanley Stubbers. Mixed in with these chaotic events is Pauline Clench who was originally meant to marry Roscoe but is now set to elope with over-the-top amateur actor Alan Dangle.
I leave the rest of this silly saga to you, as well as recurring joke that had the audience I saw it with in stitches.
James Corden’s touted success in the role of Francis might lead one to suspect this is a star vehicle, but two of the other main characters actually shore up the snickers in the script. As Francis, David Roby is nothing like Corden physically, which is all to the good. With his rubber face, an athletic adeptness for flips and pratfalls and contortions, and a sense of comic timing that must have been born to him, Roby bites into the play without devouring it.
Seldom seen in comedic roles, after this play Daniel Stoltenberg may find himself typed as a comic after this production. Take every wannabe a tragic classical actor with little talent and roll them all hilariously into one is what Stoltenberg’s Alan does. And as the doltish posh gangster Stanley, Luke Salyer also earns his fair share of chuckles.
Overcoming the fact that the best writing is reserved for the 3 above-named actors, a doff of the hat is well deserved by the supporting cast, including John Clark as Charlie a loutish ex-con, Kayla Teel as Rachel/Roscoe Crabbe, a daffy and darling Christine Riipii as Pauline. Madison Jones is zesty and cheeky as Dolly, Sierra Kagen regales as the stiff-upper lipped Harry, Mark Waldstein who does a mean turn as Stan Laurel, and Henry James Walker is spot on as a doddering old man.
Musical interludes are agreeably rowdy and welcome as performed by Elijah Pasco on piano and John Brenner on bass (with occasional cast inclusion). Burton Yuen’s set is appropriate and highly functional, and Margaret Toomey’s costumes are as loud, colorful and zany as the era.
One Man, Two Guvnors runs through August 27 at Center Theatre in Seattle Center Armory, lower level. Tickets run $15-$25 and can be purchased by calling 800-838-3006 or visiting soundtheatrecompany.org.