‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ Review — Upping the Antics at Court Theatre

Timothy Edward Kane

The chance to watch the rubber-faced Timothy Edward Kane eat a piece of paper is enough to justify the trip to Hyde Park to see Court Theatre’s cotton candy confection, One Man, Two Guvnors.” Trying to assuage his character’s hunger, Kane inserts the paper into his mouth and chews with deliberation, summoning up Charlie Chaplin chomping on a shoe in “The Gold Rush.”



Cast of 'One Man, Two Guvnors'


Physical comedy is at the heart of “One Man, Two Guvnors,” English playwright Richard Bean’s 2011 adaption of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century commedia dell’arte classic, “The Servant of Two Masters.” Goldini’s genius lay in tickling the sweet spot between the broad improvisational strokes of the Italian art form that dated to the 1500s and a more refined script inspired by the improvisations of legendary Harlequin Antonio Sacchi.



Alex Goodrich & Chaon Cross


Bean tries for a similar recipe, like a brewer experimenting to find the right amount of yeast to coax bubbles of improvisation out of his script. It works best when it inspires the performers — and the audience — to improvise. Although the script is no more substantial than a sand castle, the Court Theatre production inserts some delightful inside jokes, like Kane’s five-second return to his tour-de-force performance in Court Theatre’s “An Iliad” and repeated references to Court’s resident artist Ron OJ Parson.



Francis Guinan & Ross Lehman


Assisting director Charles Newell in stirring up the on-stage antics is movement consultant Christopher Bayes, professor and head of physical acting at the Yale School of Drama. “Traditionally, actors are usually the last to be invited to the party,” says Bayes. “We are trying to give them ownership of the work.” Take ownership they do. As much as the audience may laugh, the performers appear to be having the best time of all.



(Back) Alex Goodrich, Elisa Carlson, Derek Hasenstab; (Middle) Chaon Cross, Hollis Resnik, Erik Hellman, Elizabeth Ledo, Allen Gilmore, Francis Guinan; (Front) Ross Lehman


Bean recasts the play to 1963 on the coast of Brighton, where the itinerant Francis Henshall (Kane) takes on two gigs at once, waiting on both upper-class criminal Stanley Stubbers (Erik Hellman) and local gangster Roscoe Crabbe, who in fact has been killed by Stubbers but has come back to life in the guise of his twin sister Rachel (Elizabeth Ledo) — Stubbers’ lover — who hopes to collect money her brother is owed by Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench (Francis Guinan), father to the ditzy Pauline (Chaon Cross), who was engaged to Roscoe but hopes to marry Alan Dangle (Alex Goodrich) — got it?



Timothy Edward Kane & Elizabeth Ledo


Rounding out the daffy cast of charters are Lloyd Boateng (Allen Gilmore), Harry Dangle (Ross Lehman), Dolly (Hollis Resnik) and in multiple roles the versatile Elisa Carlson and Derek Hasenstab. All the performers rise to the frothy occasion, with Cross equaling Kane’s physicality, vocalizing the dim workings of Pauline’s brain with creaking moans or humping a chair like a horny dog.


Timothy Edward Kane & Erik Hellman


In addition to playing their parts and adlibbing, the cast members play instruments and sing the original songs of composer Grant Olding, adding another layer of rumpus to the proceedings. Attired in costume designer Mara Blemenfeld’s loud creations — picture a suit of patchwork plaid — they cavort on scenic design Collette Pollard’s evocative sand-edged boardwalk, thoroughly enjoying their day at the beach.



One Man, Two Guvnors


Through June 12, 2016


Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.Chicago; free garage parking evenings


2 hours, 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission


Tickets $45–$65 (student rush tickets available) at (773) 753-4472 or Court Theatre




Photos: Michael Brosilow


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