In Clemson, Veteran and Young Actors Make a Classic Fresh Again
By Steve Wong
The Clemson Little Theatre went old-school classic for its production of Moon Over Buffalo, giving Upstate South Carolina a peek at the madcap shenanigans of thespians behind the stage’s red curtain.
As one of playwright Ken Ludwig’s most beloved plays, it is a story about two married and aging stage actors — Charlotte and George Hay — hoping for another stab at stardom in the most unlikely place of Buffalo, NY, which at the time (1953) was a blue collar city and a far cry from Broadway. They were of an era when yet-to-be-discovered actors traveled from town to town doing repertory, and here, they and their support ensemble were alternating between Cyrano de Bergerac (the one-nostril version) and Private Lives.
The play kicks off with a witty, vigorous, and in-costume sword fight between Charlotte and George, played by Paula Doolittle and Paul Hyde. This sets the tone of their enduring relationship as being a bit bawdy, loud, loving, and totally held together by their craft. But very quickly, one of George’s indiscretions is brought to light: He and a much younger actress in the company — Eileen played by Caitlyn Herrington — had had a one-night stand at one of their previous gigs, and now she’s pregnant.
But that is just the first of several situation-comedy twists: Their adult daughter Rosalind (played by Raine Riley), who had left the theatre life to pursue a career in advertising, has stopped by to introduce her fiancé, a nerdy TV weatherman Howard played by Andrew Bishop. By happenstance, Rosalind and Howard are ships in the night, and throughout the play Howard is mistaken for … well, several men, including movie director Frank Capra.
The Hays get unexpected news that Capra needs leading actors for a new picture, and Charlotte and George are on his list of candidates. Charlotte needs to tell George that Capra is flying in to check them out during their show later that day. But George is devastated by the pregnancy and Charlotte’s plans to leave him, and he’s out getting drunk. Meanwhile, company gofer Paul (Ralph Welsh) is pining for Rosalind and trying to be helpful; and Charlotte’s very deaf mother Ethel (potrayed by Lynn Campbell) is busy stealing scenes and mending trousers.
As you might expect, chaos ensues, everyone is chasing someone throughout the theater, wires are crossed, identities are mistaken, and the last thing a drunk actor needs is more Irish coffee.
By design, Moon Over Buffalo is a tidy little mess with over-the-top characters who keep the plot moving with physicality, one-liners, and personality aplenty. The chemistry between Hyde and Doolittle is magical, and their characters are always “dramatic” and on stage, quoting famous lines to suit the moment. Hyde is an established and well respected Upstate journalist and teacher with special interests in all-things on stage. In addition, he has directed and acted in plays in the Upstate for the past 25 years.
By day, Doolittle is a school counselor at Southwood Academy of the Performing Arts in Anderson. But for the past 25 years, her nights have been spent on South Carolina and Georgia stages, appearing in more than 90 shows. Her portrayal of diva Charlotte was both in-your-face and loving.
With a nice sense of comic timing and character flexibility, Riley has returned to the stage after nearly a decade. In her role as daughter Rosalind, Riley keeps her character light despite having to deal with the drama that she had hoped to leave behind in favor of a normal life with her betrothed weatherman.
An extra bravo goes to both Campbell and Bishop for their roles as the deaf mother and the nerdy weatherman. Although their characters were supporting, they always stole the scene when they were on stage. In both cases, their uninhibited and technical acting abilities were on target. Campbell may not have had many lines, but they were almost always deadpan zingers.
Bishop is only 20 years old, but his talent was showcased here as a clueless but well-meaning weatherman who is often at a loss of words and swept up in the melee of others. He has appeared in several shows at CLT and has a bright future on the stage.
The Clemson Little Theatre and Director Will Nash Broyles are commended for taking an established and well known play and making it fresh again. Broyles also designed the green room set that was complemented by the vaulted and nostalgic auditorium. It would have been sad to watch such a classic play produced by lesser professionals; it was a joy to see it produced by people who really seemed to care and to have fun with a play that is all about caring and fun.
And let it not go unnoticed that playwright Ludwig gave special attention to this local production of his 1995 Broadway play. In addition to providing a cute and insightful recorded introduction to Clemson’s efforts, he also provided new dialogue expressly for the production — thanks to Hyde and his wife Ashley Polasek.
Unfortunately, Moon Over Buffalo has closed. Enjoy Clemson’s next production of James and the Giant Peach youth production in March or The Fantasticks in April. More info and tickets available at http://www.clemsonlittletheatre.com/.