by Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Take Carlo Goldoni’s “The Servant of Two Masters,” add English accents and blend in some fourth wall breaking bits with the audience and you have Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvnors,” a twentieth century piece of commedia dell’arte.
Francis Henshall (Tom Protulipac) doesn’t like to skip a meal. His pockets are empty and he’s starving. Knowing his boss, Roscoe Crabbe (Jenny Malarkey) won’t pay him until the end of the week, Francis takes on a second job with Stanley Stubbers (Connor McNelis). All he wants to do is grab some haddock and chips with mushy peas or whatever English grub he can grab at the pub in Brighton.
But having two guvnors is a tricky business, and Francis learns it the hard way. He must keep the two men from meeting, or the jig is up. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Francis, Roscoe Crabbe is really Rachel Crabbe and she’s in Brighton to rendezvous with her fiancé Stanley Stubbers. Stubbers is fleeing from the law after killing Rachel’s twin brother, Roscoe. Even though Stubbers slew her brother, Rachel is in love with him (family reunions must be extremely awkward). Basically, Francis must keep the two from meeting, even though the only reason they’re in town is to meet. Whew! That’s not even the tricky part.
For Rachel, posing as her dead brother has an unusual set of complications. Roscoe was betrothed to Pauline Clench (Marsha Mayhak), but she’s in love with Alan Dangle (Craig Ketchum). To snatch the dowry from Pauline’s dad, Charlie (Keith Zagorski), Rachel (still disguised as Roscoe) must marry her – and since the action is set in Brighton, England in 1965 (well before Marriage Equality) that’s just not gonna happen.
Of course, Francis mucks everything up. The comedy picks up steam in the second act after Francis is finally fed – in a hilarious scene involving an ancient accident-prone waiter (Neil Donaldson), flaming Crepe Suzette, a mousetrap and an unfortunate audience member. Once sated, Francis pursues two new deadly sins; lust and avarice – pushing gluttony off to the side like parsley. He promises Dolly (Erin Bock), Charlie Clench’s voluptuous bookkeeper, that he’ll whisk her off to Spain. The passionate pursuit leads to additional complications.
Director TJ Firneno keeps a lot of plates spinning in this riotous production. There is a balletic choreography to the comedy. Protulipac has the lion’s share of the plate-spinning, seizing the stage with gusto. He is happily chewing the sparse scenery, excelling in the aforementioned bits involving audience participation. He’s a whirling dervish.
There are several fine performances. Malarkey’s androgynous Roscoe and Bock’s lusty Dolly stand out.
Between scene changes, the cast provides some interstitial material singing songs or otherwise entertaining. Side note: there is some technical tomfoolery afoot.
It’s a madcap, crazy show. Not all of it works. Some of the material seems dated – and must have felt dated even in the first performance in the National Theatre in 2011 (since the show is set in 1965). When it does work, it’s hilarious! There are several bust a gut moments.
Special mention to Jill Spear, Little Lake’s volunteer coordinator, who does a lot more than keep the volunteers busy.
“One Man, Two Guvnors” is wacky, whimsical evening out.
“One Man, Two Guvnors” runs through July 15 at the Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South, Canonsburg, PA 15317. For more information, click here.