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The Vagabond Players - ARCHIVE
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September 2 - 25, 2005
Tonight at 8:30

Reviewed September 3
Running time 2:15 - one intermission
Three one-act plays of English humor
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Three different directors attempt to inject some charm into - or coax some interest from -  three one act plays by Noel Coward in one evening. The effort fails and all three short plays come off as dated, trivial and - as incomprehensible as it seems for the work of one of the theater's wittiest writers - witless. Instead of a fascinating look at three of the package of short stories which hold a notable place in the annals of British theater, these recreations tend to make one wonder just how great the acting talents of Mr. Coward and his on-stage partner in the original project, Gertrude Lawrence, must have been to garner such accolades in performing this material. 

Storyline: Three one-act plays: Ways and Means concerns a society couple who have finally run out of funds. They convince a burglar into faking a robbery to cover their insolvency. Red Peppers is about a pair of feuding vaudevillians who insult everyone in the theater community even more than they insult each other. Fumed Oak deals with a long suffering henpecked husband who determines not to suffer any longer.

In 1936, the incredibly popular English playwright, director, songwriter and actor Noel Coward came up with a concept for a show that was more project that production. He wrote ten different one act plays for himself to star in opposite his frequent co-star Gertrude Lawrence. Each night they performed three of them, but never announced in advance which three. The audience came to witness this mix-and-match magic. Never before on London's West End had audiences lined up to buy tickets without knowing what plays they would see.

The collection was reduced to nine after a single performance of Star Chamber which Coward not only withdrew from the mix but banned from future performance. Once the original run was completed, Coward went on to other projects and resisted all efforts to have him do a revival. In typical Coward riposte, he said "Never boil your cabbage twice." However, the nine one-act plays have been licensed for performance and a company is free to pick and chose among them for a three-play set under the original title "Tonight at 8:30" which, of course, is a throw back to when curtain times were later. The Vagabond Players begin their shows at 8:00 - not 8:30.

The production here amply demonstrates that it takes polish to approach the work of Coward who was the epitome of polish. The characters found in these three plays are truly horrid, shallow people. It is their veneer that is of interest. With one exception, the performers here can't capture that veneer, leaving the characters' failings exposed without either the charm or the wit that acted as a facade to hide their selfishness, shallowness, or both.  That one exception is Richard Peek who sets up the actions of his character - that of the henpecked husband in Fumed Oak - with admirable skill. His sad-sack demeanor, along with his hound-dog eyes and stooped shoulders in the early part of the play as his family squabbles around him as if he wasn't even there, establish the rationale for his subsequent eruption. It doesn't make that eruption particularly acceptable, but it does make it understandable.

Written by Noel Coward. Directed by Sharon Weaver, Sherry Eden Barber, Charlie Mitchell. Design: Tony Colavito and Jay DeMarco (set) Cast, Theatre Hopkins, McManus Theater and Suzanne Pratt (costumes) Jay DeMarco (lights) Tom Lauer (photography). Cast: Peyton Brown, Greg Coale, Joan Crooks, Jim Knost, Bruce Levy, Rachel Morgan, Dyana Neal, Richard Peek, Justin Purvis, Katie Rappold, Susan Scher, Michael Stricker, Beth Weber,