On a winter Sunday afternoon, I attended The Central New York Playhouse’s 2017 season premiere production of the British farce, “One Man, Two Guvnors.” The plot is purposely complicated and full of fun. The overall play is based off of the 1746 Italian play, “A Tale of Two Masters.” The story is set in the small town of Brighton, England in 1963. This stage captured the English character bluntly. CNY Playhouse has been upgrading their theater and it was noticeable in the sound, lighting, and comfortable seating.
Francis Henshall (Josh Mele) trying to get a bite to eat as a result of recently being fired from a musical band, finds himself hired by a small time gangster Roscoe Crabbe, to help him collect money from his fiancée’s Father. Roscoe in turn, ends up being his twin sister Rachel, (Lauren Puente) posing as her murdered brother while around everyone else. She is actually secretly in love with her brother’s killer, Stanley Stubbers (Josh Taylor). Stubborns becomes Henshall’s other “guvnor.” Having these two bosses causes Francis to consistently become disordered with his work and often narrates directly to the audience to clear things up for us while confusing himself more. At times, Henshall faces an overwhelming puzzling number of events and is forced to face the two guvnors for which he serves. Comedy ensues.
There were some stand out character portrayals. It was amusing to see the talented Syracuse theater legend Binaifer Dabu playing an 87-year-old arthritic man, Alfie. Her high energy, comedic timing with her make-up and giant wig made her almost completely unrecognizable. Lauren Puente delivering the explanation of the two types of twins was, scientific, long winded, incredibly fast and left everyone’s mouth hanging open. CNY Playhouse regular and stage carpenter, Christopher Lupia, (Alan) seemed at home as an over acting, love stricken actor and it was very silly to watch. Josh Mele stood strong as the lead, using his high quality English accent and Broadway-esque singing voice.
The bulk of the set (largely built and designed by Karen Greenfield) was a foggy city-scape backdrop, with the stage painted as the Union Jack. To the far right was a pub that served food and to the left was a simple stone building and a dock referencing water below. For indoor scenes, furniture was brought out to suit the mood of English style. Set changes were all done in dark while a trio of singers alluded to the next portion of the story. The song and dance storytelling was very entertaining and brought a powerful musical energy, at times the songs seemed to drag on. The instruments consisted of the ever present, master music director Abel Searor on piano and a guitar player. The costumes of this production were fashionably chosen and designed by Costume Designer Barbara Toman, to fit 1960s England.
I found myself thoroughly loving the comedy while sometimes struggling with the fast talking, English accented dialogue. The plot overall was delightfully overwhelming and paralleled how the lead character was feeling throughout the play. The occasional breaking of the third wall and lighthearted audience participation made the confusion melt away. This comedy was sheer silliness and was felt by the cast and audience members. I would give this show a PG-13 due to its innuendos and occasional adult language. Even though this production was not what The Central New York Playhouse had originally planned as the 2017 season opener, artistic director and comedy man, Dustin Czarny succeeded in having to shift from his original idea. The show runs until January 28. For tickets call their box office at (315)-885-8960 and more info on the show and CNY Playhouse’s thrilling new season visit www.cnyplayhouse.org.