One Man, Two Guvnors
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
South Coast Repertory
Through Oct. 11
Richard Bean’s version of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters updates the action to the Swinging Sixties in England, complete with big hair and a skiffle band. As with most commedia, the humor is broad and the characters are archetypes, but it’s undeniably funny. Director David Ivers gets a terrific performance from his lead actor and keeps the energy high throughout, but at two hours and forty-five minutes the production could do with some tightening.
In 1963 Brighton, Francis (Dan Donohue) is out of work and hungry, so he jumps at the chance to be hired muscle for a thug, even though he’s not particularly threatening or strong. What Francis doesn’t know is that the thug, Roscoe, is actually Roscoe’s sister Rachel (Helen Sadler) in disguise. Rachel’s fiancé Stanley (William Connell) killed Roscoe, and the couple needs money to leave the country. To this end Rachel tries to fleece Charlie (Robert Sicular), the father of Pauline (Sarah Moser), who Roscoe was intending to marry. This plan might work, except that Francis gets a second job, unbeknownst to Rachel, as Stanley’s valet, and everything becomes hopelessly confused for everyone.
Donohue is outstanding as Francis in a comedic whirlwind of a performance, very at ease in his frequent asides or interactions with the audience. Connell excels as the bluff Stanley, but Sadler gets less amusing things to do as Rachel. Sicular is good as the breezily gullible Charlie, and Moser is hilarious as the spectacularly stupid Pauline. Brad Culver expertly hams up a storm as the pretentious wannabe actor Alan; Danny Scheie has fun with language pronunciations as waiter Gareth; and Claire Warden is aces as the no-nonsense albeit romantic Claire.
Bean largely uses the commedia plot to provide Francis with a platform to play with theatre tropes, from walking out into the audience (“I just went through the fourth wall! It feels amazing.”) to discussing the ins and outs of the play Guvnors is based on. This is fine, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making all of the other characters and the story seem less important. Hugh Landwehr’s set is versatile, if a bit bland, and Grant Olding’s songs aren’t particularly memorable in what is otherwise sure to be a crowd-pleasing show.
South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Thurs. – Sat. 8 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m.; through October 11. Scr.org. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.