Only For Those Who Love To Laugh Out Loud…!
April 18, 2012
Comedy is defiance. It's a snort of contempt in the face of fear and anxiety. And it's the laughter that allows hope to creep back on the inhale….Will Durst
The most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool, and he must be no simpleton that plays that part….Miguel de Cervantes
I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose….Woody Allen
I remember as a kid I’d regularly laugh loud and long at something a friend said, or at a joke I read somewhere, or occasionally just for the hell of it. Why that seems to happen so much less now I’m not sure, but when I get to spend a couple of hours laughing my head off, I sure do feel better.
So I was more than pleased when I saw ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS at the National Theatre last winter, and enjoyed it even more on Broadway last week. ONE MAN is the funniest farce since NOISES OFF, and that, my friends, is saying a lot.
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS is based on Servant of Two Masters, a 1743 play by Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni, whose Wikipedia page is worth looking at to see the amazing quantity of his works, which number more than 200.
Servant of Two Masterswas written in the Commedia dell arte style. Goldoni originally left long sections of the script blank so they could be improvised, but ten years later filled out the text.
Richard Bean is credited with writing ONE MAN, as opposed to adapting it from Goldoni’s play, though the National Theatre has petitioned the Tony Administration Committee to ask that it be classified as a revival, this year’s revivals being less competitive than this year’s new plays. Goldoni’s structure and basic story is kept intact, but virtually all the jokes and text are Richard Bean’s.
Set in 1963 Brighton, ONE MAN is the story of Francis Henshall (James Corden), who seeks to improve his financial situation – and succeeds in complicating everything else – by going to work for two people at the same time, so he can buy more food for himself, loving food as he does.
I promise this is the last time I’ll write this, but Mr. Corden was the fat kid in HISTORY BOYS, and he still has plenty of heft.
Francis’ two “masters” – who of course aren’t aware they’re sharing a “servant” – are Rachel Crabbe (Jemima Rooper), who’s pretending to be her dead twin brother, and Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris), who killed the brother, and just happens to be Rachel’s lover.
Confused yet? I hope so.
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS isn’t for the theatergoer looking for an intellectual experience, nor for the theatergoer looking an emotional experience. The theatergoer ONE MAN most emphatically is for is one who can laugh at an old-style brand of humor that is slapstick absurdity, or absurd slapstick, whichever way you prefer to put it.
Have trouble laughing at a 96-year-old waiter on his first day on the job who keeps falling down the stairs?
Buy tickets to CLYBOURNE PARK instead.
The National Theatre’s Artistic Director, Nicholas Hytner, directed ONE MAN, which makes me marvel at his range: MISS SAIGON, CAROUSEL, TWELFTH NIGHT, HISTORY BOYS, ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS. Nick’s also the best AD ever at the National, which has had several pretty wonderful ADs.
Hytner keeps the frenetic pace going from a quarter hour before the actual performance begins until the play ends. Any lulls between scenes are filled with what I’m going to refer to as a Skiffle band, though the four musicians themselves (The Craze), play conventional instruments. Cast members do solos with the unconventional (skiffle) instruments, including Xylophone, squeeze-ball horns, and fists rhythmically beating on the bare chest of Daniel Rigby, who plays a wanna-be actor in the tradition of Miles Gloriosus.
The sets by Mark Thompson have a bit of a cartoon feeling to them, which fits the mood of the piece, and the costumes – also designed by Thompson – perfectly recall the 60s, especially in the abundance of crinolines, which filled me with nostalgia.
Go see ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS for Broadway’s best laughs in years.
Rating (5 stars possible): ****
The bottom line: Laughter is the best medicine
Who should go? Anyone with the capacity to have fun
Do I recommend it? I’d be barmy not to